Opinion: Saban at 60: How much longer will he coach?

Alabama coach Nick Saban seems to be having too much fun to quit now. (AP Photo by Joe Songer of the Birmingham News)

For today’s print edition, I wrote a column about Nick Saban, trying to guess how much longer he might like to coach:

TUSCALOOSA — Nick Saban will turn 61 on Oct. 31, which is the same age as Gene Stallings when he retired as Alabama’s football coach in 1996.

But with the Crimson Tide’s season opening Saturday against Michigan, Saban hardly looks like a guy who is ready to get out.

Heck, he hardly looks a 60-year-old. During practice this preseason, the Alabama head coach still works with the defensive backs. He still runs around, wearing shorts, sneakers, white T-shirt, gray sleeveless pullover and straw hat.

He still yells when somebody doesn’t give the effort he wants.

He still gets so involved in some drills that he sometimes has to backpedal to keep from getting run over. On the field, he doesn’t look a whole lot older than defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who is 36.

This isn’t to say Saban won’t decide after the season to head to the lake house, but if that’s what he is thinking, I don’t see it.

About the only thing that’s different from other preseasons is that now he seems like he’s in an awfully good mood most of the time. Maybe he’s enjoying working with this team that much. He keeps saying he likes the effort he is seeing.

When Stallings retired, he said that one of the reasons was the declining health of his son, John Mark, who died in 2008. But Stallings himself was starting to look a little like a coach ready to step down, too.

He used to open all of practice to reporters, not just 15 or so minutes as Saban does, so we always got a pretty good look at him and his team.

On some days, when the offense worked on one side of the practice field and the defense on the other side, Stallings would stand in the middle and occasionally lean over, grab his knees and work his back as if he was trying to get something back in place. We called those his “bad-back days.”

After one practice in which he leaned over and adjusted more than usual, he opened his post-practice briefing by saying, “When I die, I want them to do an autopsy of me so they can tell me once and for all what’s wrong with my back.”

He smiled as he said it, but he was serious about how much his back hurt on some days.

Saban hasn’t stayed at any school longer than five years until now. This is his sixth year in Tuscaloosa.

My thinking about why he didn’t take another job after winning his first or second national title at Alabama concerned his age. If he had taken another job after last year, he would’ve felt committed to staying four or five years, because that’s how long it would’ve taken to accomplish what he wanted. He wouldn’t leave Alabama for a job he couldn’t complete.

That would’ve taken him to 64 or 65, and I figured Saban wouldn’t want to coach that long. At Alabama, he could retire at 61, 62 or whenever and not leave feeling as if the job wasn’t complete.

His Alabama contract was extended in May and now runs to 2020. If he still is coaching then, he will open the season at 68, which is the same age as Bear Bryant when he opened his final year as Alabama’s football coach.

Certainly, Saban won’t coach that long. Certainly not. … Will he?

Contact Decatur Daily Sports Editor Mark Edwards at mark.edwards@decaturdaily.com.

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