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Alabama Players’ Reaction to CFP Loss Played Role in Nick Saban’s Retirement Decision

Nick Saban’s decision to retire as Alabama’s football coach didn’t come as a major surprise to athletic director Greg Byrne. Saban had hinted that the end was near following the 2022 season, spurring Byrne to start preparing for that eventuality.

That preparation would culminate in Alabama’s hiring of Washington’s Kalen DeBoer, fresh off a College Football Playoff appearance, to replace perhaps the greatest coach in college football history.

DeBoer led the Huskies to the national title game against Michigan after beating Texas in the semifinal at the Sugar Bowl. On the other side of the four-team bracket, Alabama fell to Michigan at the Rose Bowl, which proved to be Saban’s final game as coach, and—as he told ESPN’s Chris Low for an article published Wednesday—directly contributed to the timing of his decision.

Nick Saban looks on during Alabama’s Rose Bowl game against Michigan.

Alabama’s Rose Bowl loss to Michigan proved to be Nick Saban’s final game as Crimson Tide coach. He retired nine days later.

Saban says it wasn’t the reason for his retirement, but he was unhappy with how his team reacted to the 27–20 defeat, and it shed light on the idea that this was the right time to walk away.

“I want to be clear that wasn’t the reason, but some of those events certainly contributed,” Saban told ESPN. “I was really disappointed in the way that the players acted after the game. You gotta win with class. You gotta lose with class. We had our opportunities to win the game and we didn’t do it, and then showing your a– and being frustrated and throwing helmets and doing that stuff … that’s not who we are and what we’ve promoted in our program.”

In meeting with players after the season, Saban said he estimates that “70 to 80%” wanted playing time and NIL assurances, furthering the idea that it was time for him to hang up his whistle. He also cited the constant churn of assistant coaches as a contributing factor.

“So I’m saying to myself, ‘Maybe this doesn’t work anymore, that the goals and aspirations are just different and that it’s all about how much money can I make as a college player?’” Saban said. “I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m just saying that’s never been what we were all about, and it’s not why we had success through the years.”

On Jan. 10, nine days after the loss to Michigan, Saban informed his team of his retirement decision. Just two days later, the Crimson Tide hired DeBoer, ringing in a very new era in Tuscaloosa.