The Decline of Nick Saban Has Begun
Alabama is on the decline. For now, at least. There's no sensible argument against it. The Crimson Tide is the proud owner of a two loss regular season for the first time since 2019 and second since 2010, and looks like a team that can barely keep pace with the good teams of college football, let alone the great ones.
Things might be different next year, but that seems unlikely. The team will lose star quarterback Bryce Young to the NFL Draft, who's play is a large reason Alabama has been competitive at all in SEC competition this year. They will also likely be adjusting to at least one new coordinator on the coaching staff after two years of abysmal offense from Bill O'Brien and five of substandard defense from Pete Golding.
As their arch-rival, Auburn, searches for a new coach, one expert has suggested that the Tigers shouldn't be worried about competing with Nick Saban. Instead, they should be focused on finding a candidate that can keep pace with Kirby Smart and his rising Georgia Bulldogs program.
"This is going to sound completely insane, but you don't need someone who can compete with Nick Saban," said Kevin Scarbinsky, Director of Communications for the CoachSafely Foundation and Auburn insider on Inside the Locker Room last week. "You need someone who can compete with Kirby Smart."
"Nick is not there for the long haul, Kirby appears to be," said Scarbinsky. "That should be your standard. And Kirby's younger, he's gonna be around longer, and he's not going away by all indications."
The ugly truth for Alabama fans is Scarbinsky is absolutely right. Saban has been in Tuscaloosa for 15 years. He's 71 years old. For all the talk about how he has no interest in retirement, there can't be much fuel left in the tank.
Over the last few years since the 2020 national championship season, the team has been on a steady decline, relying heavily on the transfer portal and the prolific talent of Young to mask deficiencies in both recruiting and play calling.
Additionally, that 2020 undefeated season is the only national championship victory for Alabama in five years, the fewest over that amount of time in Saban's tenure. Even that victory has a giant asterisk next to it because of the dramatic changes to college football the COVID-19 pandemic caused.
Many have made the case that the team appears soft, something a Saban coached team would have never been accused of in years gone by.
At a multitude of press conferences this season, Saban and his players have spoken about the anxiety of playing in big games. Ten years ago, Saban and his recruits were expressing gratitude for the privilege of playing in big games. It's a far departure from the days of old.
In the past, it was rare to see an Alabama defense confused and out of position in big moments. Now, it seems more common than not. Under the last four offensive coordinators, play calling was imaginative and played to the strengths of the players on the field. O'Brien's offense is the furthest thing from that.
Fans are probably justified in laying the majority of the blame for Alabama's performance this season at the feet of the coordinators, but these are men that Saban both hired and continues to retain. That's on him.
Meanwhile, Saban's greatest disciple has the Bulldogs storming their way to a second national championship in a row. The 46-year-old's team dominated a Tennessee team that handed Alabama their first loss of the season, all but completely establishing that as of right now, the throne of the SEC is in Athens, Georgia, not Tuscaloosa.
This author doesn't have much confidence that's changing anytime soon.