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University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban retires after 17 seasons

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Students at the University of Alabama woke up to a whole new world today. The school's football coach, Nick Saban, says he is retiring after 17 seasons with the Crimson Tide. He won a record seven national championships - six of them during his time with the tide. Pat Duggins with Alabama Public Radio has the reaction from Tuscaloosa.

(CROSSTALK)

PAT DUGGINS, BYLINE: At the Druid City Brewing Company in Tuscaloosa, Ala., there was just one topic of conversation last night.

MATTHEW KING SMITH: My phone was buzzing a whole lot, and looked down and saw that Coach Saban had retired.

DUGGINS: That's Matthew King Smith. He graduated from the University of Alabama in 2006. Students currently attending UA are used to Nick Saban winning championships. But Smith remembers the Crimson Tide before Saban arrived.

SMITH: I've seen us lose to a lot of different teams during my college career - went out to UCLA and watched us lose in the Rose Bowl.

DUGGINS: But once Saban arrived in 2007, things changed.

SMITH: You know, as soon as we got Saban, we sort of felt different. And we thought that there might be a turnaround.

DUGGINS: And that turnaround came two years later.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NICK SABAN: But I want everybody here to know this is not the end. This is the beginning.

(CHEERING)

DUGGINS: That's Nick Saban during the celebration for winning the 2009 college football championship. It was the first of six during his time in Alabama. On campus this morning, the news of Saban's retirement hit like a thunderbolt.

JAKE BUXBAUM: I was saying, like, did April Fools come early this year?

DUGGINS: That's UA freshman Jake Buxbaum of Ridgewood, N.J. He spends a lot of time explaining to friends and family up North why college football is so big in the South, particularly the hatred of Alabama's cross-state rival, Auburn University.

BUXBAUM: You know, it's like - it's a religion. And it's 365 days of hate with Alabama and Auburn.

DUGGINS: Student Olivia Redell was with her roommates when the news broke.

OLIVIA REDELL: We all kind of just sat there, and we're like, dang. Like, this is going to be different - definitely going to be different. We thought, like, next year would be our year. But now we're a little bit worried. We're scared.

DUGGINS: What happens next is still not clear, but speculation on Saban's replacement includes Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans in the NFL and Dan Lanning with the University of Oregon Ducks.

(CROSSTALK)

DUGGINS: Back at the Druid City Brewing Company, UA grad Matthew King Smith hopes the University of Alabama is prepared for what comes next.

SMITH: I would like to think that there was a plan in place. I don't think that Nick Saban would leave Alabama in a place where they weren't prepared to have someone else to take over the reins from him.

DUGGINS: A bronze statue of Nick Saban stands next to Bryant-Denny Stadium. Fans overnight left tributes including flowers, balloons and signs with slogans like Long Live the King and Roll Tide Roll.

For NPR News, I'm Pat Duggins in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARCHING BAND'S PERFORMANCE OF ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE FIGHT SONG, "YEA ALABAMA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Pat Duggins
Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio. If his name or voice is familiar, it could be his twenty five years covering the U.S. space program, including fourteen years on NPR. Pat’s NASA experience began with the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, and includes 103 missions. Many NPR listeners recall Pat’s commentary during Weekend Edition Saturday on February 1, 2003 when Shuttle Columbia broke apart and burned up during re-entry. His expertise was utilized during three hours of live and unscripted coverage with NPR’s Scott Simon. Pat later wrote two books about NASA, Final Countdown: NASA and the End of the Space Shuttle Program and Trailblazing Mars, both of which have been released as audio books. Pat has also lectured about the future of the space program at Harvard, and writes about international space efforts for "Modern Weekly" magazine in Shanghai, China.
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