If you were to create a Mount Rushmore of coaches over the past twenty years, Coach Nick Saban, Mike Krzyzewski, and Roy Williams would be solidly engraven. All three of them have retired in the last three years. This isn’t a coincidence. Combined, these three legendary coaches had 96 years of coaching experience, yet they all left the sport about the same time.
Nick Saban is one of the best to ever do it:
🐐 7 National championships (6 w/ Bama, 1 w/ LSU)
🐐 5x SEC COY awards
🐐 297 career wins (5th all-time)
28 years of greatness pic.twitter.com/WlEGUFYXz6
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 10, 2024
The odds of them all leaving around the same time are very low unless there is a common reason why they are leaving. And there is.
NIL and the Transfer Portal Are Changing Sports
Traditional fans and coaches may miss the old days of players being recruited and playing for a team for their entire careers. There was no transfer portal. Big-time players very rarely transferred because when they did, they’d have to sit out a year. Today, almost every big-time quarterback has transferred at least once.
Looking at the projected NFL Draft picks for QBs, nearly all of them have played at different schools than the school they are declaring from. Coaches have to re-recruit their players every single year. They have to find ways to pay their players hundreds of thousands of dollars. Otherwise, they will find a team who will.
December used to be a month spent focusing on bowl games and recruiting high school players for National Signing Day in February. Today, coaches have to focus on the transfer portal opening, early National Signing Day, finding funding for NIL, filling up coaching vacancies, and then maybe finding time for bowl game prep.
This isn’t the job that Nick Saban or others signed up for. He signed up to coach a totally different game.
Coach Nick Saban never loved NIL. He’s been vocal about that. It’s not hard to imagine he wasn’t a huge fan of having to recruit his own guys every off-season. The job description changed, and for Nick Saban, retirement was worth it. The same can be said about Coach K, Williams, and others who didn’t want to deal with the same issues in addition to one-and-done basketball players.
A New Generation
This article isn’t to complain about the state of college sports. It is just pointing out that the game is changing. Many of the legendary coaches of the past don’t fit in with the new style. Over the past few years, other big names such as Bill Snyder, Brady Hoke, and Craig Bohl have also left college football following long, successful tenures as head coaches.
The ratings suggest that fans still support and love college football as much as ever. It’s just a very different game. Every offseason brings new opportunities and hopes of reloading a team with transfer portal guys. Teams like South Florida, Iowa State, and Northwestern went from being some of the worst teams in college football to teams that made bowl games in one year, in large part because of the transfer portal.
Celebrate Nick Saban and the Past, Look to the Future
The changes in college sports are going to continue to usher out old coaches and bring in new coaches. As fans, there is nothing we can do about this. The game is rapidly changing and the best thing we as fans can do is celebrate the memories of coaches like Nick Saban, Coack K, Roy Williams, and Quin Snynder.
Personally, I wish I had the opportunity to live and watch old great coaches like Lavell Edwards, Bear Bryant, and Lou Holtz. However, I have gotten to watch greats like Urban Meyer (when he was great), Pete Carroll, and Nick Saban. The future is wide open now. Will Coach Sarkisian become an all-time great? Or maybe a younger coach like Kalen Deboer or Dan Lanning will be the next legendary coach.
So, let’s all sit back, celebrate the past, and look forward to the future.