It’s hard to imagine a bigger bombshell in college football. Or American sports. Pete Carroll being forced out with the Seattle Seahawks was a distant silver medalist in Wednesday’s sports news derby.

In a moment when the face of college football is being rewritten by sweeping changes — NIL, transfer portal, conference realignments and collapses, an expanded playoff system — this is the biggest change of all.

Why? Because Saban is the face of college football. Because Saban is the best coach in college football. Because Saban is the best coach the college game has ever seen.

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Seven national championships — six at Alabama and one at LSU. Eleven Southeastern Conference titles — nine at Bama, two at LSU. Two hundred ninety-two career victories.

He dominated in an age when you can’t stockpile players on swimming scholarships, like Bear Bryant and others did; when dozens of powers have built palaces for their football programs because the sport is awash with cash; and when NIL and the transfer portal have upended what it means to be a college football coach — especially coming from where Saban started his career in the 1970s.

Alabama coach Nick Saban waits for a play against LSU in the first quarter on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Bama won 42-28.

Pete Jenkins, speaking on “After Further Review” on WNXX-FM after the Saban news broke — a coach who was brought back to LSU by Saban in 2000 — said the NIL/transfer portal era has been hard on Saban. Makes sense. Anyone who lives enough years is never happy with the way the world has changed. The current era of college football means much less control for college football. And Saban craves, and has amassed, control better than anyone.

Even with all the changes, even as he turned 72 on Halloween, even amid the gathering whispers that 2023 might indeed be Saban’s last season, you had the sense that he would keep coaching. Even the irrational sense that he would coach forever.

What else would he do? Golf? Fish? Be on TV? Become a shepherd? It was, and still is, impossible to imagine anything turning up his dial like football. And he knows how short a time men like Bryant and Joe Paterno lived after they left coaching.

But for all his greatness, Saban does have 71 career losses. Father Time is still undefeated. This day was going to come eventually.

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As the dust settles this story — the biggest story in a news cycle full of whoppers — two thoughts spring to mind: what Saban meant to LSU football, and what his decision means for the future.

There were folks who wondered whether he was worth the $1.3 million per year LSU paid Saban in December 1999 to pry him away from Michigan State. What a return on investment it turned out to be. Saban won quickly and set the program on a course for sustained success on an unprecedented scale.

Since 2000, LSU has won three national championships, five SEC titles and two Heisman Trophies. Before Saban: one national title, seven SEC titles and one Heisman.

LSU fans came to vilify Saban for leaving to take over the Miami Dolphins, then for returning to the SEC and inflicting all those losses upon the Tigers (13 of them during his time coaching Alabama from 2007-23).

Whatever LSU did, Bama and Saban seemed to do one better. Since 2003, LSU has the most national titles in the nation — except for that school in Tuscaloosa.

Now the playing field, for LSU and everyone else in the SEC and college football, is leveled a bit. Alabama will not collapse without Saban, in the same way LSU didn’t collapse without Saban. But it can’t possibly be as dominant.

The names to replace Saban have already started flying. Oregon’s Dan Lanning. Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin. Colorado’s Deion Sanders. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, who played for Alabama.

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Bama will get a coach — a good coach — but no one will duplicate what Saban did, because there is no other Saban out there. No one who has Saban’s gravitas, the weight he carried when he stepped into an in-home recruiting visit (“The Windsor valances are a nice touch”) or stepped onto a football field.

As someone once said of Jack Nicklaus, he knew he was going to beat you, you knew he was going to beat you, and he knew you knew he was going to beat you.

The Alabama dynasty, as we have known it for most of the past 17 years, is over. My advice to the next guy who thinks he can fill Saban’s shoes: Run. Run the other way. You never want to be the man who follows the man, but especially not THIS man. Do you know who replaced Vince Lombardi with the Green Bay Packers? Exactly.

After his first season at Bama, Saban only lost three games in a season one other time, going 10-3 in 2010. As my brother Jeff once said, watch this next guy dare to only go 9-3. Crimson Tide fans will be apoplectic. “Three? Three what? What do you mean, three?”

Shortly after Saban left LSU for the Dolphins, he came back to Baton Rouge for a book signing. Years later, Saban told me he regretted leaving LSU, but by the time he did the school had already hired Les Miles. That night in January 2005, he was already feeling a bit melancholy about his decision.

“There are always regrets when you leave great people and great places,” Saban said then. “You can’t help but be emotional about what we’re leaving.”

That goes for a lot of folks, Nick. On both sides of the Bama coin.