Nick Saban on coaching through the end of his contract in 2030: 'I feel like a young man'

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Fresh off a new $93.6 million contract extension that runs through the 2030 season and makes him college football's highest-paid coach, Alabama's Nick Saban told ESPN on Thursday he plans on coaching for as long as the Crimson Tide will have him.

Saban, who turns 71 in October, has won six national championships at Alabama and said he's as committed as ever to adapting and evolving regardless of how much college football continues to change over the next few years.

"First of all, I feel like a young man, aight? So let's clear that up," Saban said laughing. "The 71 ... is a number, just a number, and I still feel like they don't make 'em like they used to, but you have to be flexible. I think that's one of the most important things about competitive sports. You know, the game has changed. The 3-point shot changed basketball. So you either change with it or you fall behind.

"The no-huddle changed football, RPOs [run-pass-option plays] changed football. If you don't sort of study the game and know the impact of these things and use them to your advantage, you're going to just completely get bypassed by a lot of folks."

When asked if he would "still be here" throughout the remainder of his contract extension, Saban had a ready answer.

"Still alive?" he joked. "I sure plan to be here coaching."

Entering his 16th season at Alabama, Saban said he and wife, Terry, and the rest of their family are "home." And despite the constant turnover on his coaching staff and the way the sport has changed, Saban said the key to the Crimson Tide's sustained success has been that the culture within the program has remained unchanged.

"I heard it said that none of us are born winners and none of us are born losers. We're all born choosers," Saban said. "So choosing the right things that are going to help you be successful ... that doesn't really change."

Back in May, Saban and Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher engaged in a verbal spat that went viral. Saban, speaking at a business-leaders function in Birmingham, said Texas A&M "bought every player" in its 2022 signing class. Fisher called a press conference the next day and issued a fiery rebuttal.

Saban later apologized for singling out any teams, but said his issue was those schools using NIL as a recruiting inducement. He remains adamantly opposed to what he calls "bidding for high school players" under the guise of NIL.

Since that back-and-forth between Saban and Fisher, Alabama has built a 2023 recruiting class that is ranked No. 1 in the country by ESPN.

"The one thing, because of the brand that we have here, that players can see is they can earn a tremendous amount of money because of the brand and because of the image that they can create using that brand to promote themselves, which has happened," Saban said. "The players that we're recruiting are not coming here because of the money we're giving them to come here. They're coming here because of what they can earn being here because of the history that we have of guys creating value for themselves."

Saban said involving collectives and alumni in the recruiting process through NIL is "what we've always tried to make sure college football wasn't." As for the spat with Fisher, who was Saban's offensive coordinator at LSU, Saban insisted that he "didn't hold grudges" and said that he had learned over the years to use anything said about him as a means to self-evaluate.

"Maybe I can get better from some of these things," he said.

Saban also shrugged off the personal nature of some of Fisher's comments.

"You know, things like that used to bother me a lot, and no one is happy about those things when they're said about you," Saban said. "But I've kind of learned that you really can't let this kind of stuff affect who you are."

Asked if his relationship with Fisher would ever be the same, Saban said, "I don't feel any differently. I really don't because I don't take things personally. You know, some people take things personally -- when they win and when they lose. I mean, when you play pickup basketball, some people take things personally and some people don't."

Alabama is ranked No. 1 in the AP preseason poll and opens the 2022 season on Sept. 3 at home against Utah State. The Crimson Tide lost to Georgia in the College Football Playoff national championship game a year ago. That's after beating the Bulldogs in the SEC championship game and finishing with 13 wins.

Earlier this month, Saban referred to it as "kind of a rebuilding year." Saban told ESPN on Thursday he was surprised by the reaction to those comments "because it's a rebuilding year every year because we lose 25 percent of our team, whether it's seniors or whether it's guys going in the draft."

The Crimson Tide, who've won at least 11 games in each of the past 11 seasons, have had a total of 27 players selected in the NFL draft over the past three years.

"Last year, we lost a lot of players the year before from a national championship team," Saban said. "So we had a lot of new players. We had a young team and didn't have the same kind of leadership or as much of it, so there were a lot of things that made you feel like you're rebuilding. But, hey, there's a high standard here.

"I wouldn't want to coach someplace that didn't have a high standard."

Alabama president Dr. Stuart Bell is clearly onboard with that standard.

"Coming off a rebuilding year, I hope we can manage to win a few more games this year," Bell jokingly told ESPN.

While the standard at Alabama hasn't changed, Saban said he has changed as a coach.

"I think I've become a better teacher," Saban said. "I think yelling and screaming at players in this day and age really goes in one ear and out the other. If you want them to really resonate on what you're saying, you just need to teach it, and sometimes, it works better if you do it individually than if you do it in front of other people. That's not something I considered in years past, several years past.

"I still can get hot under the collar every now and then, but I try to leave that to intangible things like giving effort, playing with toughness and finishing plays and not necessarily mental errors."

One of the things Saban said he likes best about this team is the leadership and the way players hold each other accountable.

"We don't have a lot of what I call energy vampires, guys that take all your time because they're not doing what they're supposed to do," Saban said. "We have a team that has bought in, and they're all trying to do the right thing."

Alabama returns two of the top players in the country in quarterback Bryce Young, who won the Heisman Trophy a year ago, and outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr., projected by many to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft.

"When the best players on your team are the best leaders, that's really a good thing," Saban said.