Most football coaches are long retired by 66. Only the greats tend to stick around that long, and only legends tend to coach into their 70s. In short, there’s plenty of reason to assume — based on history — that Nick Saban might soon step down as coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide. But he’s never been an ordinary coach, and his continued verbal commitment to the job might just be more than a recruiting pitch.
Saban is already in rarefied air, no matter the category. He’s led his teams to a poll-era record six national championships (matching Bear Bryant) and is among the winningest coaches in history, both by total victories and winning percentage.
In order to better illustrate how impressive Saban’s continued success is at this age, we took a close look at the Top 25 winningest FBS coaches of all-time (in terms of total victories) and how they fared in their age-66 seasons.
Here’s what we found:
Coaches holding steady
Joe Paterno (Penn State, 1993) — Paterno went 10-2 in ’93 and then led the Nittany Lions to an undefeated 12-0 season the following year. He remained in Happy Valley until 2011 when … well, that’s a long story.
Bobby Bowden (Florida State, 1996) — Bowden led the Seminoles to an 11-1 record and eventually won a title at age 70 in ’99. He is the only coach on this list to win a national title in his “age 66” season or later. Though that’s only a technicality. More below …
Bear Bryant (Alabama, 1980) — It should be noted that Alabama’s 1979 national championship season was more of an “age 66” season than ’80. Bryant began ’79 as a 65-year-old but his birthday came soon after the opening game. He went 10-2 in 1980 and then 17-6-1 the rest of the way.
Hayden Fry (Iowa, 1995) — Fry’s 8-win season in ’95 was nothing to scoff at, and neither was his 9-win mark the following year (his best record since ’91). But the decline came swiftly; he finished 10-13 in his final two seasons in Iowa City.
Steve Spurrier (South Carolina, 2011) — Spurrier was right at the beginning of the most impressive three-season run in South Carolina history. He reeled off 11 wins in each, and then stuck around in Columbia for one and a half more seasons.
Coaches in decline
Pop Warner (Temple, 1937) — The innovative Warner was nearing retirement when his Owls limped to a 3-2-4 finish. He coached one more Temple team to a 3-6-1 record before calling it quits.
Amos Alonzo Stagg (Chicago, 1928) — Stagg’s glory days were long gone, but that didn’t prevent him from sticking around. He went 2-7 in ’28 and coached 18 more seasons, only four of which resulted in winning records.
Frank Beamer (Virginia Tech, 2013) — Beamer Ball was nearing its end in ’13, when the Hokies legend posted an 8-5 record. He went 14-12 in his next two seasons before handing the reins to Justin Fuente.
LaVell Edwards (BYU, 1997) — The Cougars’ championship years were a distant memory by the late ’90s. Edwards went 6-5 in ’97, then 23-15 in his final three seasons.
Lou Holtz (South Carolina, 2003) — A career change to broadcasting awaited Holtz, who went 5-7 in ’03 and a slightly better 6-5 in ’04 before making the switch.
Coaches already retired
- Tom Osborne (Nebraska, age 60)
- Mack Brown (Texas, age 62)
- Woody Hayes (Ohio State, age 65)
- Bo Schembechler (Michigan, age 60)
- Jim Tressel (Ohio State, age 58)
- Bill Snyder (Kansas State, age 66, though he returned from 2009-present)
- Don Nehlen (West Virginia, age 64)
- Vince Dooley (Georgia, age 56)
- Dan McGugin (Vanderbilt, age 55)
- John Cooper (Ohio State, age 63)
- Gary Pinkel (Missouri, age 63)
- Dana X. Bible (Texas A&M, age 55)
- Bob Stoops (Oklahoma, age 56)
- Johnny Vaught (Ole Miss age 61, though he returned for one interim season)
Call your shot: When do you think Nick Saban will retire? How many more national championships will he win at Alabama?