The best way to put the surprise retirement of Oklahoma coaching legend Bob Stoops in perspective: He’s 56 years old. Nick Saban turned 56 on Oct. 31, 2007 – during his first season at Alabama.
At that point, Saban was three days away from the start of a four-game losing streak. He hasn’t lost four games in a single season since. He’s only lost three games in a year once in the last nine years.
The greatest decade of Saban’s coaching life – or anyone’s coaching life – has taken place between the ages of 55 and 65, and there’s no telling what mountains he’ll climb between now and the day he decides he’s done.
Saban’s closer than ever to that day when he reaches the same conclusion as Stoops, that it’s time to enjoy the rest of his life without winter workouts, spring practice, summer workouts, fall camp and a football season full of challenges.
No one really knows when that day will come. It’s a reasonable bet that it won’t happen for a few years, but it’s more likely than not that Saban himself hasn’t set a non-negotiable end date, even in his own mind. Expect him to reach his retirement decision gradually, then suddenly, and shock us all with an announcement.
Like Stoops, Saban no doubt will want to go out on top, however he defines that condition. It could be after one more national title to match Bear Bryant’s record. Or two more to break it. Or it could have nothing to do with results and everything to do with a feeling that, for him, “The Process” is complete.
Like Stoops did with Oklahoma, Saban will leave Alabama in a far better place than he found it in every way imaginable. He may not have an obvious successor on staff, as Stoops did with Lincoln Riley, although it’s not crazy to imagine defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt growing into that role with a few more years in Tuscaloosa.
Stoops retiring at 56, apparently in good health with no one pushing him toward the door, is just another example that Saban’s a different breed of cat. He keeps going at a pace that would exhaust younger men, and there are times when it’s hard to believe he won’t coach out the remainder of his new eight-year contract.
Then there are times like Wednesday when one of the best coaches in the business, almost 10 years Saban’s junior, surprises us all by walking away. Like Stoops, Saban has earned the right to set that date. The rest of college football eagerly anticipates that day.