For many years, TideFans.com produced an annual feature called “Coaches to Watch,” a discover-them-before-your-neighbors-do article identifying up-and-coming mid-major coaches who might one day be candidates at large schools like Alabama.
The feature actually predates TideFans.com itself – the first one rolled off the presses following the 1996 season, when TideFans.com was still BamaNation.com and Dennis Franchione, who made the list, did so from his post not at TCU, but rather New Mexico.
Over the years, the popularity of the article waned, as much due to the proliferation of the internet and the airing of seemingly every college football game as cable sports TV exploded across the landscape. Suddenly, fans got to see every coach firsthand. Finding the next big thing wasn’t such an efficient use of resources for TideFans.com, when keeping the next big thing hidden got almost impossible to do.
Some of the names on those old lists were notable: Franchione at New Mexico, Jim Harbaugh at a no-scholarship program called the University of San Francisco, Jim Grobe at Ohio, Brian Kelly at Central Michigan, Rich Rodriguez as an offensive coordinator at Tulane. We didn’t always hit – UTEP’s Gary Nord received several fawning paragraphs one year, and Sylvester Croom was talked up as a potential disruptor of the SEC hierarchy while he was still coaching running backs in the NFL. But it was entertaining enough and good for water cooler conversations if nothing else.
When Nick Saban came to Alabama, though, talking about “coaches to watch” became relevant only in the context of discussing coaches at programs Alabama might play. It was clear from Saban’s arrival in Tuscaloosa that he’d be staying just as long as he wanted to.
How much of Saban’s career is left, that’s anyone’s guess. It’s an answer likely known only by Saban himself, or his family, and even they may not have a specific day or year in mind. But in the spirit of not being caught off-guard, it’s time to start at least pulling the blankets off the coach-finding machine and getting it pre-oiled. Saban is 68 years old; TideFans.com has long responded to questions of “how long will Saban coach at Alabama?” with a guess that he’d retire sometime between the ages of 70 and 75. If we’re closer to the former rather than the latter, it’s going to happen during the next five-year recruiting cycle, and in today’s college football world, that’s not all that far off.