Throughout a national era of disillusionment, institutional failure and turmoil, Alabama football, of all things, has been a machine of astonishing consistency, humming for nearly two decades at peak performance.
On a flinty gospel of hard work and discipline, Nick Saban, who took over as head football coach of the University of Alabama in 2007, ran up a catalog of accomplishments that Alabama fans will rattle off at the slightest prompting: a record seven national championships — six of them at Alabama after one at Louisiana State University — a record 15 straight seasons during which the team was ranked No. 1 at some point, a record 44 Alabama players picked in the first round of the N.F.L. draft.
Saban’s retirement, announced on Wednesday, comes after a season that some have argued was one of the best coaching jobs of his career. Even Bill Belichick, the similarly grouchy New England Patriots coach and Saban’s mentor, who parted ways with his team on Thursday after 24 years, seemed to be stepping away a year or so too late.
Saban was at times the highest paid public employee in the entire country, a striking illustration of our national priorities, particularly in a state as poor as Alabama. But his successes on the field helped change how people thought about the state and the university.
In the late 1990s, when Alabama football was an afterthought, if the state showed in the news it was not usually for good reason, recalled Chris England, now a state lawmaker who represents part of Tuscaloosa. When he told his classmates at Howard University in Washington, D.C., that he was from Alabama, he said, they would respond, “Wow, how do you live there?”
It isn’t like that anymore.
“A few years ago I was in Turkey and I was in the middle of a hotel lobby and had an Alabama shirt on, and people started screaming ‘Roll Tide!’” England recalled. “It has changed the reaction.”
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