Nick Saban reveals conversation with wife, Terry, that contributed to retirement: ‘Why are we doing this?’

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Legendary Alabama Crimson Tide football coach Nick Saban was among a roundtable discussion in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, to talk about the future of college athletics, specifically finding a balance in the new world with the transfer portal and name, image and likeness (NIL) deals. 

Saban surprisingly called it quits for his historic career after the 2023-24 collegiate season, which ended in a Rose Bowl loss to the eventual national-champion Michigan Wolverines, and the pay-for-play landscape that college sports has become seems to have played some role in his decision even if he has denied that was the case in past interviews. 

In front of the panel with Cruz, who is involved in drafting NIL legislation, and others like Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne, Saban provided an anecdote with his wife, Terry, who shed some light on his future. 

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Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban kisses his wife after a post game press conference after a college football game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday, November 12, 2022 in Oxford, MS. (Austin McAfee/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“All the things I’ve believed in for all these years — 50 years of coaching — no longer exist in college athletics,” Saban said when asked by Cruz if the “current chaos” in college sports led to his retirement. “It’s always was about developing players, always been about helping people be more successful in life.

“My wife even said to me — we have all the recruits over on Sunday with their parents for breakfast. She would always meet with the mothers and talk about how she was going to help impact their sons and how they would be well taken care of. She came to me right before I retired and said, ‘Why are we doing this?’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ She said, ‘All they care about is how much you’re going to pay them. They don’t care about how you’re going to develop them, which is what we’ve always done. So why are you doing this?’

“To me, that was sort of a red alert that we really are creating a circumstance here that is not beneficial to the young people, which is why I always did what I did. My dad did it, I did it. So that’s the reason I always like college athletics more than the NFL because you had the opportunity to develop young people.”

NICK SABAN REVEALS CONTRIBUTING FACTORS TO ALABAMA RETIREMENT

Saban prefaced his story with his wife by explaining why he got into coaching. 

“Basically, I always did what I did so people would be more successful in life,” he said. “You’re trying to develop a value-based system just like a value-based business that would create opportunities for young people to be more successful. So, this started with personal development. This started with academic support to make sure guys graduated and prepared themselves for when they couldn’t play football. 

“Also, the whole concept of branding and making sure you had an image out there that was going to be something that would enhance your chances to be successful and create opportunities for your future. And see if you could develop yourself as a football player.

“What we’ve done between freedom to transfer and creating a free agency system where guys can transfer whenever they wanted to transfer. The whole idea that we’ve created a pay-for-play sort of model in college athletics has created some issues in being able to actually have a program and a system that would enhance those very values that I just talked about.”

Nick Saban with wife, Terry, on field

Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates with his wife, Terry Saban, after defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes after the College Football Playoff National Championship at Hard Rock Stadium on January 11, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

Saban added that the “competitive balance” is nowhere to be found in college athletics because it’s all about who’s willing to pay the most money to these current and prospective student-athletes. 

“It’s whoever pays the most money, raises the most money, buys the most players — they’re going to have the best opportunity to win. I don’t think that’s the spirit of college athletics. I don’t think it’s ever been the spirit of what we want college athletics to be.

“I can attest that I’ve had two NFL coaches tell me — and this is a football deal because they’re concerned about the football part — that the players come to them less developed with more entitlement and less resiliency to overcome adversity.”

“If that’s true in the football development, is that true in other parts of their development?”

Saban said shortly after making his retirement announcement in January that NIL and the transfer portal were not the reasons for his retirement, repeating that during an ESPN interview earlier in March. He did, however, mention relationships with players being a factor. 

Now, Saban is not a stickler for NIL deals, as he reiterated how much he understands a brand can help improve “quality of life” for student-athletes. 

Nick and Terry Saban poses for picture

Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates with his wife after the win over the Oklahoma Sooners during the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium on December 29, 2018 in Miami, Florida.   (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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“Name, image, likeness is a great opportunity to create a brand for themselves. I’m not against that at all,” Saban said. “To come up with some kind of a system to help the development of young people is paramount to the future of college athletics.”

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