Nick Saban void felt at SEC Spring Meetings, creates power vacuum

DESTIN — Former Alabama coach Nick Saban lorded over the SEC and college football for nearly two decades before he retired in January.

Despite his unforgiving dominance and intimidating presence, the 72-year-old was widely missed at SEC Spring Meetings.

“It definitely was strange not having Coach Saban in there,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said.

Kiffin was Tennessee’s new 34-year-old coach in 2008 while Saban was in his second year at Alabama. Greg Sankey was an associate SEC commissioner years away from replacing Mike Slive in 2015.

“We’re the only ones left now that coach is gone,” Kiffin said.

Kiffin is among four head coaches who worked under Saban, along with Georgia’s Kirby Smart, Texas’ Steve Sarkisian and Florida’s Billy Napier.

Smart’s Bulldogs, winners of the 2021 and 2022 national titles, eventually surpassed Saban’s program while Sarkisian’s Longhorns beat the Crimson Tide 34-24 last season.

Saban, though, would rally his team to beat Georgia 27-24 in the SEC title game and reach the four-team College Football Playoff. But on the heels of a 27-20 overtime lose to eventual national champion Michigan, Saban abruptly retired after a 12-win season many consider among his finest coaching efforts.

The decision creates a potential SEC power vacuum and chance to ascend the pecking order.

“There’s opportunity for some of our guys to step up,” Napier said.

The SEC is home to many of the sport’s top coaches and talent, including Saban replacement Kalen DeBoer, who led Washington to 2024 national title game, and the roster he inherited.

“Alabama’s Alabama,” South Carolina coach Shane Beamer said. “It’s not like they hired some slouch to replace him. “You look around that room and there’s still a bunch of future Hall of Fame coaches all around.”

Hugh Freeze, now at rival Auburn,…


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