The University of Alabama announced recently that Nick Saban has agreed to a contract extension through the 2028 season, and by now, is anyone seriously doubting he won't coach every year of the deal?
Unlike coaches who regularly sign long extensions even though there's no way they'll coach that long, Saban is different. He's 69 now and will turn 77 during the 2028 season, but all those years don't look the same on Saban as they do on other coaches.
It's not just because he colors his hair, has had vision surgery to ditch the glasses, or takes great pains to make sure he's in terrific shape — not just for a man his age but for anyone.
When his players take the field before Alabama games, he still sprints ahead of them. He's not quite as fast as he used to be, and it's interesting to see how the players intentionally run slowly when they're trailing him, but he still looks lean, mean, motivated and ready to keep doing what he's doing.
During a video conference with reporters leading up to this past season's SEC Championship Game, Saban was asked if he seemed reinvigorated after not getting to coach the Auburn game because of the virus.
"Well, I didn't know that I was not vigorated," Saban shot back, drawing laughs. "I guess you have to not be vigorated to get revigorated. I was vigorated before."
The rumor mill used to spin that when Saban stepped down, former Alabama player and current Clemson coach Dabo Swinney would head to Tuscaloosa to take his place. Swinney is 18 years younger than Saban, but Saban looks so "vigorated" it's hardly a slam-dunk proposition he'll retire before Swinney will.
We've been discussing when Saban will leave Alabama pretty much since his first day. He hadn't stayed anywhere longer than five years, and Alabama had a history of football coaches who headed quickly for the door — sometimes on their own and sometimes with a pink slip in hand.
In 25 seasons before Saban, Alabama had had seven head football coaches. So the Saban/Alabama marriage seemed born to head to divorce court sooner rather than later.
But Saban stayed.
In 2009, he coached Alabama to its first national title in 17 years. Even with such an important goal accomplished, he stayed.
He kept winning more championships. He still stayed.
Both Notre Dame and Texas put out feelers. Saban stayed in Tuscaloosa.
Some of that seemed to be about his age. He was older, and if he had left for another job, it would take three or four years to get everything set like he wanted and to win a championship.
So, going to another school essentially would be committing to coaching at least three or four more years. Perhaps Saban didn't like the idea of committing for that long.
At Alabama, he could stay where he was, have everything the way he wanted it now, compete for a championship now, and retire whenever he dang well felt like it.
Still, Saban never has lacked motivation. If he truly wanted to go somewhere, would he really worry that he might be ready to quit before his team was ready to compete for a national title?
Saban seems the type who'll coach until his body gives out before his motivation will.
Also, at Alabama, there's plenty of motivation to continue coaching. The program is as finely-tuned as ever. He has proven that while he's not always ahead of the trends of the game, it doesn't take him long to catch up and pass everybody.
As an example, he's not comfortable with offense-based football. He's a defense-first guy, but the game has changed, and Saban and his recent teams not only have adjusted but they now do it better than anyone else.
This past year, his team did it so well that it went 13-0, won another national title, and probably is his best Alabama squad ever.
M.I.T. graduate Jeff Sagarin has done computer ratings for USA Today since the 1980s. He started with basketball and eventually added football and other sports. The website has published his ratings since 1998.
In all those years, who has the highest rating in that span? Nobody.
The 2020 Alabama team is rated at 108.82 in the Sagarin system. In the past two decades, 2001 Miami (106.36), 2005 Texas (106.93), 2018 Clemson (105.35) and 2018 Alabama (105.33) are the only other teams to have topped 105.
College Football Reference uses what it calls a Simple Rating System, and Alabama's 2020 rating came out at 30.26, which is the best in college football since Oklahoma's 1973 team was at 32.87.
The recruiting machine pretty much guarantees the talent will keep flowing to Tuscaloosa. The 2021 class was rated No. 1 nationally by 247sports.com. The 2019 class was No. 1, too. The 2020 class was only No. 2, but I'm sure they'll try harder.
Could the 2028 date of his new contract be significant?
Saban's statement was a bit different than any other he's given when awarded past extensions. He referenced the end of his career and mentioned his wife: “Terry and I are pleased and happy to sign another contract extension that will keep us in Tuscaloosa through the end of our career.”
Then again, Saban isn't a "hidden-meaning" kind of guy, so there's probably not an underlying message in that statement.
What is clear is this: he'll probably still be on the sideline in 2028, running ahead of his team as Alabama takes the field, and he'll do so with as much motivation as he did in any season in Tuscaloosa.