THEY HAD A front-row seat for coaching greatness.

The coaches who came and went under Nick Saban, many of whom are now running their own programs, are like everybody else in the college football world. They’re still processing Saban’s retirement and have been since he announced Jan. 10 that he was walking away from coaching after winning seven national championships, six at Alabama and one at LSU.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart joked that he would like to fly all the coaches who worked under Saban to his new home in Jupiter Island, Florida, bring in a film crew and simply sit around and tell stories about Saban’s legendary career.

This is ESPN’s attempt to do just that, as we talked to 11 members of the Saban coaching tree, viewing the legendary leader through the eyes of the people who know him best.

Saban’s protégés, including Mark Dantonio from their Michigan State days, Jimbo Fisher from their time at LSU and Smart, Mario Cristobal, Lane Kiffin, Dan Lanning, Steve Sarkisian, Mike Locksley and more from Saban’s 17-year run at Alabama, share their most memorable, funny and moving moments and break down what made him one of the greatest coaches of all time.

From Saban’s decision to replace Jalen Hurts with Tua Tagovailoa at halftime of the 2017 national championship game to helping Sarkisian pick up the pieces of his life. We learn what Kiffin did to provoke an epic “ass-chewing,” about Smart’s awkward first interview and Fisher’s shared “West Virginia hillbilly” ties with his former boss/nemesis. We get insight into Saban’s softer side and some blow-by-blow accounts of Saban’s pickup basketball games.

One spoiler on those hoops games: Very rarely was Saban fouled.

‘It’s like dog years working for me?!’: Untold Saban stories

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin has joked over the years that he received his share of “ass-chewings” from Saban during his time at Alabama. But nothing rises to the level of the one he endured during the 2016 fall camp.

The team was in a “good-on-good” drill, pitting the starting offensive players vs. the starters on defense, and even though Kiffin had been warned by other coaches not to go overboard and try to make Saban’s defense look bad, Kiffin couldn’t resist. He was hired in 2014 as Saban’s offensive coordinator with the specific goal of helping modernize Alabama’s offense.

“I’d come from the Pete Carroll camp. I wasn’t wired that way, to let the defense win,” said Kiffin, who spent three turbulent but successful seasons as Saban’s offensive coordinator.

Kiffin had several coaches on his offensive staff present different types of plays, or what one of those assistants recently referred to as “cool plays,” and put them in before practice. Everybody in the offensive staff room knew Saban wouldn’t be pleased.

“We had a really good day on offense, ran some reverses, threw a double pass and had all these touchdowns, and he said that all I was trying to do was win the drill and trick the defense and not help the team,” Kiffin said. “I was like, ‘Isn’t that the point in good-on-good situations on offense, to see if you can move the ball?’

“He was furious.”

His ears ringing from the chewing-out the day before, Kiffin changed it up the next practice.

“Stubborn old Lane, I ran the most generic, basic, under-center offense I could, sort of their old-school offense they ran under Joe Pendry,” Kiffin said. “And the defense killed us. We’d be third-and-8, and I’d have the quarterback under center.”

In the staff meeting afterward, Saban was again miffed and wanted an explanation from Kiffin on why he was going under center on third-and-long and running the ball.

“‘I’m just running what I thought you would want me to run against the defense,'” Kiffin answered. “Again, it was just me being smart-ass me.”

At that point, Saban cleared everybody out of the room except Kiffin, who knew what was coming.

“I have to sit there, and he is screaming at me, standing over me screaming as I’m sitting in my chair. I thought he was going to fight me physically,” said Kiffin, who can laugh about it now. “So, yes, I got a lot of ass-chewings, but that’s the biggest one and one that no one saw. But I deserved it.”

Saban, however, had one last salvo, which Kiffin and the offensive coaches from that staff still find hilarious. Saban compared Kiffin to a children’s book character, P.J. Funnybunny, a spoiled bunny who went around creating havoc.

“He screamed at me that I was the bunny,” Kiffin said, “and we were like, ‘What the hell is that? There’s no way Coach has read a little kid’s bedtime story like that!'”

SMART WILL NEVER forget his first interview with Saban in 2004 when Smart was up for a job at LSU as defensive backs coach. Smart was a graduate assistant at Florida State at the time, and his old pal Will Muschamp, then Saban’s defensive coordinator at LSU, had vouched for him.

“I go on the interview, and I’m young and unassuming, and there are all these stories out there that if Miss Terry [Saban’s wife] invites you to the house for dinner, she had to give you the OK. And if you didn’t get the OK, then you weren’t going to get the job.”

Lance Thompson was leaving LSU to take the UCF defensive coordinator’s job. Smart remembers Thompson, who worked under Saban two different times, telling Smart in passing: “Working for Nick is like dog years. Every year feels like seven.”

Smart visited the Saban home on Super Bowl Sunday, and they were all sitting around and talking after dinner.

“I was comfortable and feeling good about the way it was going, and I just say, ‘I don’t get it. People say working here is like dog years.’ I don’t know why in the hell I said that. Just dumb,” Smart said. “Think about it. Why would you ever say something like that to an employer you’re trying to get a job with? But I did. I guess I wasn’t overwhelmed or intimidated. I was too young to know any better.”

The next morning, Smart got a call from Muschamp after that day’s LSU staff meeting. Muschamp told Smart that an irate Saban barked to everybody in the staff room: “Which one of you dumbasses said it’s like dog years working for me? We’re trying to hire the guy, and you tell him that?”

Smart is still sheepish about it all these years later.

“I got the whole staff cussed out and somehow still got the job.”

MIAMI COACH MARIO Cristobal was Saban’s offensive line coach for four seasons at Alabama before moving to Oregon as co-offensive coordinator and later head coach. A second-generation Cuban American who grew up in Miami, Cristobal said driving to see recruits with Saban was always an adventure, especially with Saban being a renowned back-seat driver, something to which every coach who ever went out on the road with him will attest.

One time, Saban and Cristobal were driving to see a recruit in Iowa, and it was snowing heavily.

“I didn’t know how to drive in the snow, and we were almost crashing,” Cristobal said.

Saban looked at Cristobal and asked quizzically, “Tell me, man, there ain’t no snow in Cuba. Why the hell are you driving?”

OREGON COACH DAN Lanning got a taste of what working for Saban was like on one of his first days on the job as a graduate assistant at Alabama — and at Saban’s youth football camp, no less.

“I’m part of the group that’s running the bag drills. It’s not something unique, but Nick had a way that he wanted to run those drills. And it’s one of the first times I remember getting my butt chewed,” Lanning said. “The strength coach was running the drill and then he had to leave and go run the drill for our actual guys. So I had it, but I wasn’t doing a good job of paying attention to how Nick wanted the drill run.

“I learned quickly that I was running the drill wrong — and I’m talking about sixth- and seventh-graders. It wasn’t like these are the guys we’re about to coach. And it was just a great reminder to me: Pay attention to details. For me to get my best butt-chewing during kids camp, I think that just shows the intensity of Nick.”

WHEN SABAN CONTRACTED COVID-19 during the 2020 national championship season, he had to quarantine at home. But that didn’t mean he missed practice. He was there — just not physically.

Saban had Alabama officials set up cameras so he could watch practice from home via Zoom.

“We know he’s watching practice from home, and after practice, we bring it up [in the middle of the field] like we would if he was there. It was just routine,” said Marshall coach Charles Huff, who was Alabama’s running backs coach at the time.

As the team gathered, Saban’s football chief operating officer, Ellis Ponder, rolled a 19-inch television set on a stand onto the field in the indoor practice facility. Saban addressed the team on video just as he would have if he had been there in the flesh.

“And at the end, he holds up his hand and goes, ‘One, two, three,’ and everybody yells, ‘Team,'” Huff said. “It was like ‘Saw,’ the movie where the little TV rolls in, and boom, that doll pops up and gives you instructions.”

THERE WAS NO basking in championships under Saban, even after winning it all.

Georgia Tech coach Brent Key remembers traveling back home after winning the 2017 national championship, which was Saban’s fifth at Alabama. The game was on a Monday night, and the team returned to campus the next day. On Wednesday morning, there was a staff meeting, and there was very little reflection from Saban.

“He comes in, sits down and is like, ‘Guys, congratulations on a good season. We overcame a lot of adversity. We had injuries. We had guys prepared to come back,'” Key recalled.

But everybody in the room knew a “but” was coming, and with colorful language.

“But that was last year. We’re behind in recruiting. We shouldn’t have been behind in that game,” Saban said, his voice rising.

Saban had already moved on to the next challenge.

Key remembers looking over at current Maryland coach Mike Locksley, who was in his second season at Alabama as receivers coach.

“Locks goes, ‘Damn, that was yesterday! I just won my first national championship. Like, that just happened yesterday. I’m still hungover,'” Key said, laughing.

“That’s it in a nutshell, man.”

‘Is Coach OK?’: Saban’s softer side

When Kiffin’s three children were young, he remembers getting an invitation to the Sabans’ house for Easter. His first thought was: “I’m not getting yelled at on Easter. I get yelled at enough at the football complex.”

Kiffin’s former wife, Layla, was in town with the kids and convinced him to go.

“It was amazing. Coach was completely different,” Kiffin said. “I think his first grandchild had just been born, and he was walking around with [Kiffin’s son] Knox and helping him find an egg. I was like, ‘Is Coach OK?’ Because I’d never really seen that side of him before.”

Kiffin had a similar experience with Tom Coughlin earlier in his career while working with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“Seeing that side of Coach Saban, it’s then that I understood that two of the most demanding coaches I’ve worked for were one way at home and then one way when they walked into that football building,” Kiffin said. “They felt like they had to be that way, to hold people accountable, to be tough on people, and obviously it worked because they’re both legendary coaches.

“But it was cool seeing that side of Coach Saban.”

FLORIDA COACH BILLY Napier said Saban and his wife, Terry, who have been married for 52 years, were an unbelievable team in the way they took care of their coaches and the coaches’ families.

“Don’t underestimate the impact Miss Terry had on him and all that touched that program,” Napier said. “I was always grateful when I got there in 2011 after being let go as offensive coordinator at Clemson and kind of starting my career over. He believed in me and gave me another chance, the same thing he’s done for so many coaches.”

More than just a professional boost, Napier feels even more indebted to the Sabans from a personal standpoint.

“People don’t see some of the things that he does for you behind the scenes, both he and Miss Terry,” Napier said. “My wife went through some things medically, and they were there for us. They take care of their people. My dad got diagnosed with ALS my first year as a receivers coach. I wasn’t worth a wood nickel that year, and Coach Saban helped me navigate that when I probably didn’t do my job to the best of my ability. But he had a pulse for how challenging that was for me and guided me through it.”

TEXAS COACH STEVE Sarkisian has said several times that Saban saved his career when he brought Sarkisian on as an analyst in 2016 after alcohol issues led to his firing at USC.

“He believed in me at a time when I was having a hard time even getting an interview,” Sarkisian said.

Following Texas’ 34-24 victory over Alabama last season in Tuscaloosa, Sarkisian made sure Saban knew how much he meant to him.

“None of this would’ve been possible without you,” Sarkisian told Saban at midfield.

One of only three former assistants to beat Saban, along with Smart and Fisher, Sarkisian thought about that moment at Bryant-Denny Stadium when he heard Saban was retiring.

“As great as it was for us to go and get that win, that would never have been possible without Nick Saban, ironically,” Sarkisian said. “To think that was where I kind of resurrected my career, in that stadium with him, to have that moment — which was our biggest moment in three years here — was something I won’t forget. I’m forever grateful that he and Miss Terry were both there for me at a tough time in my life.”

‘There’s no turning back’: Decisive calls, memorable moments

One of Saban’s most memorable in-game decisions was making the switch from Jalen Hurts, who was 25-2 as Alabama’s starting quarterback, to true freshman Tua Tagovailoa at halftime of the Crimson Tide’s come-from-behind 26-23 win over Georgia to capture the 2017 national championship. Tagovailoa’s 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith in overtime won the title for the Tide.

Alabama trailed 13-0 at the half and hadn’t been able to generate any offense. A week earlier, the Tide scored only two offensive touchdowns in a semifinal win over Clemson.

“We come into the locker room at halftime of that Georgia game, and the first question Nick has is, ‘What the hell is going on? What do we need to do to get the offense going?'” Locksley said.

Locksley was then the receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator. His younger receivers were already restless about not being more involved in the passing game. Locksley looked around the locker room and spoke up.

“‘Coach, if you’re asking my opinion and you want to get the offense going, let’s give Tua a shot,'” Locksley recalled saying. “I said, ‘I’ll talk to Jalen, and if it doesn’t work, we can always go back to Jalen.'”

Any critical decision was always Saban’s call, but he wanted input from his coaches, especially in tough situations, and that’s something else that set him apart, according to Locksley.

“There was never a flinch whatsoever on his part to make that move,” Locksley said. “But you’ve also got to remember that he’s the same guy that made a decision a year before when we lost the championship to go with a new playcaller [Sarkisian] for the championship game. That’s the thing about Coach. He listens to people, but he’s the one that makes the decision. And when he does, there’s no turning back.”

Locksley said he’s not sure Saban could have managed the whole Hurts-Tagovailoa situation any better. Tagovailoa had taken most of the first-team reps prior to the semifinal against Clemson after Hurts got the flu.

“I’m not sure the ball hit the ground in any of those practices,” Locksley said. “Tua was unbelievable.”

But when Tagovailoa didn’t start against Clemson, Locksley said Tagovailoa was boiling mad and ready to transfer. It was a similar story with Hurts after he was benched in the national title game. After all, he had lost only two games as a starter — and one of those was the national championship game against Clemson the year before, when his 30-yard touchdown run gave Alabama the lead with a little more than two minutes remaining.

“It’s never easy to juggle those types of things. Only one quarterback can play, but Coach does a great job of managing it and allowing the people who are closest to the players to be a big part of it,” Locksley said. “And then in 2018, it was almost a reversal. Jalen comes in and saves us in the SEC championship game. He was ready. Those things don’t happen by accident. The tone is set at the top.”

CRISTOBAL ARRIVED AT Alabama in 2013, the year after the Crimson Tide lost to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa. The pregame meeting the next year in College Station remains etched in Cristobal’s mind.

“Every detail in those meetings is covered, from where the sun rises and sets, does it affect the returners, the referees, what they are prone to calling, all that stuff,” Cristobal said.

The Tide had heard all offseason that they were going to have to go play at Kyle Field, and that Manziel, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, was going to light them up again. Cristobal said the mood in the locker room was uptight, and Saban sensed it right away.

“Hey man, ain’t no one going to die today, you know?” Saban insisted. “Get your asses focused and enthused about this opportunity we have today. Ain’t no one going to die.”

Cristobal said the tension was immediately relieved.

“We got back to business,” Cristobal said. “He had a knack for doing stuff that made everybody in the organization better.”

Alabama beat Texas A&M 49-42 in one of the best college football games of the year.

THE WEEK BEFORE the 2016 national championship game, Saban abruptly cut ties with Kiffin, who was his offensive coordinator and playcaller for Alabama’s semifinal win over Washington. Saban had Sarkisian, then an offensive analyst, call plays for the title game against Clemson; the Tigers would beat the Tide 35-31 on a last-second touchdown. Kiffin had been named Florida Atlantic’s coach a few weeks earlier, and Saban didn’t feel Kiffin was fully invested in his duties at Alabama.

After Saban retired, Kiffin said he reached out to reiterate what he has told Saban almost every time he has seen him since that parting.

“I just told him that I appreciated him so much, and as I look back now at any issues we had between us, they were 100 percent my fault,” Kiffin said. “I didn’t see it at the time, but I see it now.

“It’s a lot like being a parent. You don’t always understand when you’re a kid and your parents are telling you things, but then you get older and have your own kids, and you’re like, ‘OK, now I get it.'”

Kiffin said he apologized for being so difficult, but that Saban was very gracious and talked about what a good run they had together — three SEC championships, three College Football Playoff appearances, one national title and a 40-3 record, including a 26-game winning streak to end their three years together.

“I would have really struggled with myself as an assistant coach at that stage, and I told Coach that,” Kiffin said. “Now I’m the head coach, and I see that. Yes, I would have liked me on game day because there was a lot of success and all the plays that we created. All that stuff would have been great, but always questioning things, wanting to know why and arguing back. … I don’t think I would have put up with it as a head coach.”

SABAN AND FISHER were raised a “few hollers over,” as Jimbo would say, in West Virginia, but they were never what you would call close friends after their days of working together at LSU from 2000 to 2004. Their relationship seemingly went up in flames prior to the 2022 season.

You’ve heard this part before. Saban, who once called Fisher the best offensive coordinator he ever had at the college or pro level, said at a May 18, 2022, fundraiser that Texas A&M “bought” all its players in the previous signing class with name, image and likeness deals. An enraged Fisher, then the Aggies’ coach, fired back the next day in a hastily called news conference. He called Saban a “narcissist” and described Saban’s comments as “despicable.” Saban later apologized and said he shouldn’t have singled out specific schools, but he didn’t back down on his stance that NIL was being used as a guise for pay-for-play.

Fisher said he hasn’t talked to Saban since his retirement, but is glad to see his old boss walking away when he’s young and healthy enough to do some of the other things he wants.

“I know everybody thinks we’re enemies because I said what I said, but I truly believe Nick’s a good guy and a genuine guy,” said Fisher, who was fired toward the end of the 2023 season at Texas A&M. “Now, Nick likes to win and will do what he needs to do to win. We all will. Maybe it’s the West Virginia hillbilly in us. We like to hit you and scratch you. But at the end of the day, we give a s—. That’s the way we grew up.

“I remember when we got to LSU, Nick was sort of an outsider, hadn’t coached in the SEC and really hadn’t won crazily. But none of that fazed him. You could see his vision right away, his tenacity to do it the way he knew it had to be done despite what anybody else thought. There was nothing outside his program that affected him.

“A lot of it is that we’re the same guy, Nick and me, and are point-blank about what’s on our minds.”

‘If I want to call a timeout, I’ll call a damn timeout’

Throughout his coaching career, Saban loved organizing pickup 3-on-3 basketball games with his coaches at lunchtime. Only in the offseason, mind you.

The games at times were intense, and legend has it that Saban picked the teams and occasionally picked who would guard him. At Alabama, that guy often was current Arkansas State athletic director Jeff Purinton, who was then one of Saban’s most trusted confidants as associate athletic director for football communications.

“My first years with him, I loved it and looked forward to it. My last six years, I dreaded it,” Smart said with a laugh.

Smart participated in those games at all three of his coaching stops with Saban.

“We played outside when we were with the Miami Dolphins, some great games,” said Smart, noting that current South Carolina receivers coach James Coley and former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett were part of the games.

One of the funnier stories, and Smart says Coley tells it best, was when Saban was at LSU. They went from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3, making it a faster-paced game. Coley said Saban, in his mid-50s at the time, became winded and called timeout after a loose ball. But Stan Hixon, who was on Saban’s team, was the only one who heard Saban call timeout. Derek Dooley was on the opposite team and thought Hixon had called the timeout. Dooley yelled, “There’s no timeouts out here.”

Dooley had no idea the call came from Saban, and Saban was none too pleased.

“Hey Derek, I’m 50 years old, and I’m about to have a heart attack. If I want to call a timeout, I’ll call a damn timeout,” Saban huffed.



Nick Saban on where it all began for him as a coach

In 2018, Nick Saban told the story of the exact moment he started thinking like a coach.

Fisher said he and Saban were always on the same team during their LSU years. They would play on the practice court underneath the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

“We’d always go to 11. Nick was the point guard, and I was the shooting guard,” said Fisher, who was Saban’s offensive coordinator at the time. “Our third player would vary. I mean, we’d go at it too. I wasn’t going to lose, and neither was Nick. I’d score about nine of our points, and he’d score the other two. He could handle the ball and shoot, but I could shoot from long range. It was some serious basketball.”

Former Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt, who worked two stints under Saban at Alabama, joked that he was banged up all the time because he was constantly diving for loose balls to impress Saban, especially those first few years when Pruitt was a younger, off-field staff member.

Saban continued with his lunchtime games until spring 2019 before having hip replacement surgery. Those early years at Alabama were the best, according to Smart.

The Alabama assistants had an hour for lunch, but they were required by Saban to make recruiting calls during the break.

“So the coaches that he demanded play basketball over that lunch hour would show up across the street at Coleman Coliseum with their phones in their hands making recruiting calls,” Smart said. “Nick would jog down the steps, and we all made sure he saw us making calls before the games started.”

Kiffin doesn’t have any hoops stories because he strategically made it a point not to participate.

“I knew better,” Kiffin said. “When I got there, they told me all about the games and how Coach picks the teams and that if you cover him, you can’t foul him and probably should let him score some. And I’m like, ‘Wrong dude. That ain’t happening. I’ll just go for a jog or something.’

“I knew if I went over there, it probably wasn’t going to go well. So I never once went and played basketball.”

‘Nobody does that’: What makes Saban unique

Smart’s Bulldogs have won two of the past three national championships, and of Saban’s former assistants, he is probably the most like his old boss. Both defensive masterminds, they were together for four of Saban’s six national titles at Alabama.

“His ability to manage and motivate people was unlike anything I’ve seen, and I mean everybody in the organization,” said Smart, who beat Saban to capture the 2021 national championship but was winless in their other five meetings as a head coach.

“He leads by example. Nobody outworks Nick. He doesn’t hold you to a different standard than he holds himself. He’s smart and that’s one thing, but his message always has a purpose. Everything’s calculated, and he just does it better than everybody else.”

Saban was 31-3 against his former assistants, with one of those losses coming this past season to Sarkisian, who guided the Longhorns to their first CFP appearance and their first 12-win season since 2009. Sarkisian, the offensive coordinator on Alabama’s 2020 national championship team, marvels at Saban’s run, especially considering that in five of the 10 years prior to his arrival, the Tide failed to produce a winning season.

“I mean, from when he took [Alabama] over in 2007 and the state of the program then to what he was able to do, even until the last snap of his career, is unbelievable,” Sarkisian said. “He instilled in everybody every day that they were competing to be a national champion. He set a standard and a bar for excellence in our sport that we’re all striving to get to.”

Beyond the wins, Saban’s ability to lead resonates with Cristobal.

“He’s the epitome of an elite CEO, and one of the greatest things you learn from him is that he has a relentless attack on human nature because his belief in upholding the standards of an organization is as prioritized as it can be,” Cristobal said. “He made it very clear to us that once you don’t hold people to that elite standard, an entire organization could fall to pieces. He made sure he kept us on edge, and he challenged us all the time.”

Saban never deviated from his core beliefs, but he was continuously self-scouting, tinkering and trying to gain an edge.

“I appreciated the level of detail, the competitive spirit, the constant search for improvement and the ability to be flexible and to always be evaluating things and trying to get better and staying ahead of the curve and thinking outside the box,” Napier said. “You don’t do what he’s done unless you’re just a little bit different.”

Dantonio, elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in January, coached defensive backs under Saban at Michigan State.

“He always talked about two things: consistency and performance,” Dantonio said. “He’s been consistent throughout, and he’s built something that lasts. That’s his legacy, and I think that’s what everybody wants to do. I can still hear Nick saying something that stayed with me throughout my coaching career: ‘If you’re not coaching it, you’re letting it happen.’ There’s nothing he didn’t coach.”

Saban produced 43 first-round NFL draft picks during his 17 seasons at Alabama, with more ahead in the upcoming draft.

“It’s easy to say they just had better players. They did. Really good players,” Sarkisian said. “It’s easy to say, man, he’s the greatest defensive mind. Yeah, he’s a great defensive mind. But his ability to adapt schematically, his ability to continue to bring in new coaches year after year on both sides of the ball, his ability to motivate the different teams, the different personalities and different quarterbacks that led to all those championships is what’s fascinating.”

At the end of the day, though, Saban never lost sight of the main ingredient in winning those championships.

“He always sort of laughs and smiles and says, ‘Hey, I can’t coach bad players, either,'” Dantonio said.

Locksley, who had been a head coach or coordinator for 15 years before he joined Saban in 2016 as an offensive analyst, said his three years at Alabama were “the equivalent of Muslims going to Mecca or Catholics going to the Vatican. … For me, it was like when a college professor takes a sabbatical. That’s how much I learned.”

He has been resolute in building his Maryland program with the same blueprint Saban used.

“I tell people all the time that I’ve got grandma’s famous chocolate chip cookie recipe from my time with him,” he said. “If the process tells you to put two cups of chocolate chips in there, why the hell are you going to put three? If it says three eggs, why would you put two? Everything fits and has a perfect place for how it fits.”

Even Kiffin, who is never at a loss for words, struggles to put Saban’s career in proper perspective.

“I always look at coaching, and a lot of times, somebody has a run when they hit it right with an elite quarterback who’s a top-10 pick and then they have drop-offs,” Kiffin said. “But there’s no one who’s done it like Coach has for the last 17 years and then LSU before that. He’s withstood all these changes over the years, coaching changes and the game changing, and just kept winning.

“I mean, nobody does that. It just doesn’t happen, and I’m not sure it ever will again.”