Progress 2024: Hanging it up — Chilton residents gives their accounts on Nick Saban’s retirement

Published 2:17 pm Friday, May 17, 2024

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This story was originally featured in Progress 2024.

Story by Carey Reeder | Photos by Carey Reeder & Contributed

After 17 seasons, 47 Consensus All-Americans, nine Southeastern Conference championships, six national championships and four Heisman Trophy winners at the University of Alabama, head coach Nick Saban called curtain on the greatest college football coaching career of all time.

Saban was hired in 2007 after Mike Shula was fired at UA with a 26-23 overall record for the Crimson Tide. Fans were searching for the next historic coach who could bring back the winning traditions of yester years like the likes of Wade, Thomas, Stallings and Bryant.

From day one, the messages of discipline, commitment, toughness, effort and pride rallied the Alabama program and turned it into a national championship power in just two seasons, as Saban captured his first of six titles at UA at the end of the 2009 season.

From there, the legend of Saban grew higher both literally and figuratively. With every national championship won, the city of Tuscaloosa and the campus of UA grew, and the legend of Saban becoming the greatest college football coach to ever live gained steam. From the 2012 BCS National Championship Game stonewalling of LSU, the dismantling of Notre Dame the following year, the battles with Clemson, second and 26 against Georgia and most recently, fourth and 31 and the gravedigger play, each moment immortalized Saban on the top of the college football world. Saban was 201-29 at Alabama, an .874 winning percentage, a drastic improvement from the other coaches of the 2000s at UA.

While his coaching ability shined through most, Saban’s attention to detail, ability to reach athletes from all walks of life and the push of education at UA being just as important were other reasons why thousands of parents over the years trusted him with their child’s future. Alabama’s graduation rate of its players under Saban was around 80% during his tenure, a remarkable number showing the emphasis he put on education to his players, and them responding to that in a positive way.

Whether you were a student at UA, a fan of the program or a coach in the same state or sport, it felt like everyone was affected by Saban in some way, shape or form, especially here in Chilton County. Numerous people around Chilton County expressed their feelings of Saban’s retirement, remembered times they met him and spoke about some of the things he influenced them with. Here are a few of those accounts:


Brad Abbott, Head Football Coach at Maplesville High School

“I am 53 years old, so I grew up through Bear Bryant too, and growing up I thought he was the best there ever was. I got to see Nick Saban a different way, because when he was starting at Alabama I was into coaching then, and it was my profession.

As far as X’s and O’s from him, I have been to clinics and heard him speak on things like that, mainly about defensive stuff. You learned a lot of his philosophies and the way he did things, and everyone has different fronts and things they do. As far as his teaching method, that is what I took most from him when I would go to Alabama clinics or watch videos of him out working with the defensive backs because I was coaching defensive backs at the time, so I took a lot of his teaching techniques.

Becoming a head coach, he was so detail oriented, and he never let those guys get away with anything. This one little thing they may have done wrong that I would not notice watching the drill or tape, he would stop and correct them right there on the spot so that kid knew exactly what he did not do to perfect his technique. It was all about perfection with him, and the idea of you are never going to perfect it, but you need to get as close as you can to that perfection level.

Leadership was another thing I really got from him, and the whole aspect of being a leader of an organization and not just a football team. Anyone that is any type of leadership role, his ideas and the way he went about running his program is something that would benefit anybody that would ever have the chance to sit down and listen to him talk about working with people, motivating people and building that type of culture that everyone is on the same page working towards the same goal. That is something that I definitely took from him more than an X’s and O’s, and it was something that always impressed me about him.

One story, I went to a clinic to see him speak, and I just happened to be, on that day, hanging out and standing with a group of guys who he was interested in coming over and talking to. Other words, I was nobody in that group and there were a couple of big-name high school coaches in that group that he was coming over to talk to. They introduced me to him, and he shook my hand and said ‘It was nice to meet you.’

Just to listen to him interact with those guys with no cameras, in that setting, was cool for me to see how funny he could be, because he was really a funny guy just talking off the cuff about stuff. At the clinic at Alabama last year, we were sitting for a meal before one of the speakers got up to speak and (Saban) was coming around to the tables and talking to all of the coaches in there. He stopped by, and our coaching staff told him we were from Maplesville. He told us this story of him coming back from something in Montgomery trying to get back to Tuscaloosa, and they got pulled over in Maplesville and got a speeding ticket for speeding through Maplesville. That is probably not a good thing that his connection to Maplesville is that speeding ticket, but it was funny for him to tell us that.”


Daryl Davis, Head Football Coach at Thorsby High School

“First of all, he is big on discipline and the process. When I would go (see him at clinics), he would always introduce a first-year coach or young coach and the guy would get up there and talk, and Saban would always sit on the front row and get out a notepad and start taking notes. It did not matter who it was, and he was like a sponge and he soaked up everything and he was constantly learning. I always thought that it was neat that the guy who I think is the greatest coach there ever will be, and was, could always learn something from somebody else. It was constantly learning new things.

He had a quote one time, and he would say in his coaching clinics about discipline that ‘Here is something I know I am supposed to do that I really do not want to do. Can you make yourself do it? And then, there is something you know you are not supposed to do. Can you keep yourself from doing it?’ He would always talk about that at those clinics, and I always thought that was neat.

I think the reason why he was so good was he held everyone accountable. I think he got over there and finally got it going the way he wanted to, and he just held coaches, players and everybody to a certain standard. You either got with the program and became disciplined and did what you were supposed to do, or you got gone.”


Marvin Morton, Former Head Football Coach at Chilton County High School

“I was honored to meet Coach Saban last year while he was recruiting a player of mine. Coach Saban has always been a coach I looked up to, I always admired what he did at the University of Alabama and just how he ran that program throughout his years sticking to his core values and never straying away from them — discipline, toughness, teamwork and effort.

What he has done for the state of Alabama, recruiting Alabama and interacting with high school coaches with coaching clinics that I went to every year, just being able to talk to a coach that inspired me as a football coach and just talk philosophies, not even about X’s and O’s, just more on what he did to be successful. I preached that to some of my players on the game of football and how it translates to real life.

Coach Saban is just very wise with his approach to the game of football, and the impact he made in college football is tremendous and I consider him the greatest football coach to ever coach the game. From the defensive side of it, me being a defensive coach, I loved studying his defensive philosophies and some of the schemes that he has done.

Coach Saban is a genuine guy, very nice, respectful and shared some advice with me as a young head football coach, and I will take those things as I continue my coaching career.”


Tate Leonard, Head Football Coach at Isabella High School

“I am certainly not an Alabama fan, but I am a Nick Saban fan and he has done an outstanding job. There is no doubt he is one of the best of all time, if not the best. I have always enjoyed listening to his takes on leadership, and that is what I took away the most from him was his talks on leadership and how to deal with that stuff.

I have been impressed over the years how he has adapted to changes and different personnel, and he always adapts and keeps them going which has been impressive from a coaching standpoint.

I am happy for him, and he has served his time. I am glad he is getting to enjoy some life away from football for a little bit and step away on a high note.”


Rachel Martin, Executive Director of Chilton County Chamber of Commerce

“I am the screaming, crazy football fan for Isabella (High School) and Alabama. I never got to meet (Saban), but to say I have been impacted by him is yes. I can say now that I lived through the Saban Era, and it was a good run and I am thankful that I got to enjoy all these seasons of success. I just appreciate him making my Saturdays great for so long.

I think the impact both him and Miss Terry, that is another one that will be missed with him retiring because she made such a difference in so many lives and was involved with so many things as well.

I have screamed with him and wanted to break headsets with him at times, but he has been the coach for so long and most of the time I have been following football. It has been great to ride this high for so long that he has brought to Alabama.”


Carey Reeder, Managing Editor at The Clanton Advertiser & University of Alabama Graduate

“I was fortunate to attend Alabama during the height of the Saban Era from 2016-2020, but I was even more fortunate to work closely with the football program while I was a student there.

I got the opportunity to intern at The Tuscaloosa News for three semesters, two of which fell in the fall which meant two football seasons. The first season I was tasked with putting together a ‘Players to Watch’ for the game each week, and a part of that was attending all of the football media availabilities during the week.

I needed to know about a backup tight end if he was playing in the upcoming game or not, and as I made my way into the media room I thought there would be no better person to ask if he was playing than Saban himself. The cool thing about Saban is that he is not full of himself. He knows the perception he has, especially when it comes to the media, and he understands that college students very frequently attended his press conferences trying to perfect their craft and learn.

If a person had a question, he respectfully answered, if it was a good question. I was in the room for the ‘I know you do not like comparison questions,’ with Saban responding ‘You are right, so do not ask me one,’ interaction, so question construction was important.

I asked my question, got a 30-45 second response and everyone moved on. The rest of that season and the next, every time I saw or interacted with Saban it was in a positive way. It was cool to see the ‘czar of college football’, shout out to Jimbo Fisher, interact behind the scenes as normally as he did.”