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  • Jacob Koehler

Eras End in New England and Alabama

The football world was shaken up in the beginning of 2024 as legendary coaches Bill Belichick and Nick Saban have left their corresponding teams. The two coaches have a legitimate GOAT argument at their respective levels, the NFL and NCAA. They left on different terms, but both will be remembered for their sustained excellence and success. 

         Bill Belichick coached the New England Patriots for 24 seasons before being let go by the organization. He brought them 6 Super Bowl titles, a record amongst NFL head coaches. He has two additional titles as an assistant coach, giving him 8 total rings. The renowned coach shared his success with quarterback Tom Brady in their dynasty run that spanned over multiple decades. Known for his blunt press conference answers and deadpan demeanor, Belichick never showed much emotion to the media. From an outside perspective he may not seem like the most fun coach to play for, but his players raved about him and rallied around him year in and year out. A mastermind of a defensive coach, Belichick always seemed to be a step ahead of the opposition. Even in this past 4-win season, the Patriots ranked 7th in total defense. He put together some of the most dominant teams the league has seen. Firing a coach that brought 6 championships to the organization sounds unheard of, but many saw it coming. 

Since the departure of Brady from New England, the Patriots have struggled. In 4 seasons post-Brady, Belichick and the Patriots have only put together a singular winning season, resulting in a wildcard round blowout against the Bills. Meanwhile, Brady won the Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his first season away from Belichick. This has led to the debate over who should receive more credit for the Patriots success, Brady, or Belichick. Belichick also has had control of drafting for the team, and his picks of late have not panned out. First round QB Mac Jones was benched last season, leaving only one first round pick since 2018 in the starting lineup. Belichick will undoubtedly go down as one of, if not the greatest coach of all time. However, the Patriots ultimately decided they couldn’t keep him off legacy alone.

         Nick Saban announced his retirement after 17 seasons with the Alabama Crimson Tide. He also won 6 National Championships with the Crimson Tide and one prior as the coach of LSU. In his 17 years at Alabama, Saban had an astonishing 201-29 record, good for a 87.4 winning percentage. Saban’s Alabama teams were so dominant, that any year they didn’t appear in the championship came as a surprise. The bar was set so high, that going 12-2 this past season with a loss in the CFB semifinals was considered a down year for the program.

Saban had all the qualities that make a great football coach. His knowledge of the game, attention to detail, teachings of discipline, and player development were all top tier. Most importantly, he built a winning culture. Saban expected the most his players could give out of them. Coach Saban was tough when he needed to be, but also always stood up for his players. He kept the program at the top for so long with stellar recruiting, as the top athletes coming out of high school wanted to play for Saban. His effect on recruiting and player respect has been shown in the time since his retirement announcement, as top players have decommitted from Alabama or announced their intent to transfer. Another testament to the coaching abilities of Saban is the success of his former athletes at the next level. He produced 49 first-round NFL Draft picks, more than any coach in college football history. 44 of these came from his tenure at Alabama alone. 

The circumstance for Saban’s retirement ultimately came down to age. At 72 years old, Saban felt he was no longer able to perform like he used to. Just like he wouldn’t want his players to be playing at less than 100%, he didn’t want to lead a team if he felt he didn’t have enough left in him. Speaking to ESPN, Saban said "Last season was difficult for me from just a health standpoint, not necessarily having anything major wrong, but just being able to sustain and do things the way I want to do them, the way I've always done them," he said. "It just got a little bit harder. So you have to decide, 'OK, this is sort of inevitable when you get to my age.'" While Saban certainly could have continued to coach at a high level, there is reason to respect someone wanting to take care of themselves and acknowledge when they can’t give the game their best any longer.

     Former linebacker coach Jerod Mayo will take over for Belichick in New England. Mayo played 8 seasons at linebacker for the Patriots, winning honors in his playing career such as All-Pro and Rookie of the Year. This will be his first professional head coaching opportunity as he looks to build the Patriots back into contenders. In Alabama, Kalen DeBoer is stepping in to replace Saban. DeBoer has worked his way through the college rankings and is coming off a National Championship appearance as the head coach of Washington. These newcomers are entering unique positions as they attempt to fill the shoes of two all-time great football coaches.

         While Saban and Belichick may have gone out on different terms, their reputations are cemented. They will forever be remembered synonymously with their teams that they brought to glory. It’s yet to be seen what the future holds for the 71-year-old Belichick, as he has expressed his desire to continue coaching. While he pursues a 7th ring as a head coach, Saban will be enjoying the stress-free life of retirement. This may be the end of two fabled eras, but the footprints Belichick and Saban left on the game are everlasting.


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