The news of Nick Saban retiring sent shockwaves through the college football world. Among dozens and dozens of thrilled programs to see the Alabama head coach bow out, perhaps none were more elated than the fanbase of the Tennessee Vols.
With a 16-1 record, Saban turned the once-exciting Third Saturday in October into a one-sided annual beatdown. Aside from close shaves in 2009 and 2015, it was like trying to stop a tsunami with a hand towel each year for Tennessee. Until 2022 that is. In Saban’s last game in Knoxville, Tennessee slayed the dragon 52-49 and smoked those long-anticipated victory cigars into the wee hours of the morning.
And now, Saban is gone. It literally doesn’t matter who Alabama hires. Alabama, regardless of their new head coach, isn’t going to terrorize the Vols over a nearly two-decade period like Tennessee fans suffered under Saban. Not happening.
As it turns, that new coach is Washington’s Kalen DeBoer, who reportedly accepted the Alabama gig on Friday afternoon. And why not? It’s hard to see DeBoer being in a place to cash in better than he is right now.
Alabama is one of the top programs in the country, if not the top. But it’s a position that not a lot of people wanted to be in. Dan Lanning stayed at Oregon. Steve Sarkisian remained in Austin. Mike Norvell continues at Florida State. All of those coaches were seemingly higher on the list than who Bama is bringing in.
And that’s because the shoes are Godzilla-sized that DeBoer will be stepping into. With a record of 206-29 at Bama, Saban established a level of excellence that will likely never be replicated in a sport that’s become seemingly more balanced in the era of NIL and the transfer portal, if this year is any indication.
It’s a risk for DeBoer. 10-2 will likely earn an extension and a pat on the back from the folks in Washington. It’ll earn angry message board posters calling for his head in Tuscaloosa. It’s a tough job that’s going to be a challenge for DeBoer to stabilize quickly. Case in point with top Bama WR Isaiah Bond reportedly putting his name in the transfer portal on Friday.
Regardless, Tennessee now knows who’s the opposite number of Josh Heupel when Tennessee and Alabama meet on the third Saturday of October in 2024 (October 19). It remains to be seen, depending on format, whether the schools will continue matching up on an annual basis beyond that.
Still, it won’t be Saban staring back across the field. That already makes the matchup this Fall that much more appealing for the Big Orange.