Alabama DC says Nick Saban showing no signs of retirement


LOS ANGELES — Alabama defensive coordinator Kevin Steele knew the question was coming, and he was ready.

So were the Crimson Tide’s defensive players at Friday’s media availability for the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game presented by Prudential.

Steele, in his third stint working for Nick Saban, was asked whether his 72-year-old boss might be inclined to walk it off into retirement if he wins his next two games, beginning with Michigan on Monday, and captures his seventh national championship at Alabama.

“Wow,” a grinning Steele said with emphasis.

Steele, with 39 years of coaching experience, wasn’t about to wade blindly into that one, but he was quickly reminded by a reporter that that narrative was out there.

“I’ve heard it. So, yeah, it’s always going to be out there, and I will tell you this: Nobody knows that answer except for him,” Steele said.

The answer Steele does know is that Saban, in his 17th season at Alabama, never deviated from his renowned “process” earlier this season — after the home loss to Texas in Week 2 and the ugly road win over South Florida a week later — when media, fans and even some former players were suggesting that Alabama’s season was all but over and that perhaps Saban’s best days were behind him.

“I think people forget, and I’ve seen it, that he has an uncanny ability to know what each team needs, what each group of guys need and what each side of the ball needs,” Steele said. “And now, it’s expected that you’re going to win every game at Alabama, and when you have a game where you don’t win, then all the focus … well, it must be gone. The mystique must be gone [Steele said, pointing to a reporter]. That’s your word, and he has an uncanny ability to manage that.”

Alabama’s players said any talk of Saban retiring was probably rooted in other schools and fans hoping that might happen.

“He always says, ‘Why would I walk away, and do what?’ ” said senior defensive lineman Justin Eboigbe, who arrived on Alabama’s campus in 2019. “It’s like the first day I came in. He’s still got the same fire and passion, and I truly believe him. I remember when I was getting recruited, people were saying that he was going to walk away, and he still hasn’t.”

Any time a coach reaches his 70s, the retirement discussion is going to invariably surface, but Saban has always been one to live in the moment. That’s certainly not going to change now with the stage as big as ever.

“I’ve always said that if you’re thinking about retirement, you’re probably already retired, and I’m not there yet,” Saban told ESPN last month.

Saban’s remarkable consistency can be defined in many ways, but right up there at the top is that Alabama has never gone more than two years without winning a national championship since he was hired in 2007. The Tide have a chance to continue that streak this season.

Junior outside linebacker Dallas Turner, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, said Saban’s steadiness and belief in the team after the shaky play early in the season set the tone for Alabama’s 11-game streak.

“It always hurts losing, especially at home, but honestly there was never really any panic,” Turner said. “It was just like a moment where we just had to tighten up as a defense, had to get things right, and it was a reevaluating moment for us as a team.”

Turner said anyone suggesting at that point that Saban had lost his edge as a coach was woefully out of touch.

“A lot of those people saying that never played football before, but it is what it is. People talk,” Turner said.

Steele, who has known Saban since 1985, said Saban probably did his best work in keeping everybody in the program grounded and focused after the Crimson Tide started to have some success following their slow start.

“People don’t understand the process. It’s the same every Sunday [after games] whether we win by 40 or if we had a hiccup,” Steele said. “It’s all about the technical improvement of the players, and so it really wasn’t any different. I mean, we’re not a staff that comes in and wins by 40 and everybody’s sitting around eating doughnuts and drinking coffee and laughing and we start the meeting 40 minutes late just because we had a big win.

“I mean, Sundays at the University of Alabama, that’s gone. The 24-hour rule … that’s over.”

So no ranting from Saban after that Texas loss?

“I wouldn’t say ranting. That’s not correct, but stern instruction,” Steele said, smiling.

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