Nicholas Lou Saban Jr., born October 31, 1951 is an American football coach who has been the head football coach at the University of Alabama since 2007. Saban previously served as head coach of the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins and at three other universities: Louisiana State University (LSU), Michigan State University, and the University of Toledo. Saban’s career record as a college head coach is 219-62–1.
Saban led the LSU Tigers to the BCS National Championship in 2003 and the Alabama Crimson Tide to BCS and AP national championships in 2009, 2011, 2012, and College Football Playoff championships in 2015 and 2017. He became the first coach in college football history to win a national championship with two different Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools since the inception of the AP Poll in 1936. Saban and Bear Bryant are the only coaches to win an SEC championship at two different schools.
In 2013, Saban was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. Even prior to his sixth national title win, Saban has been considered by many as one of the greatest coaches in college football history. He is tied with Paul “Bear” Bryant for most NCAA National Championships for a coach in the modern era.
Saban had not intended to enter the coaching ranks until Don James hired him as a graduate assistant at Kent State, while Saban waited for his wife to graduate. He later served as an assistant coach in NCAA Division I-A, at several schools: Syracuse in 1977, West Virginia in 1978 and 1979, Ohio State in 1980 and 1981, Navy in 1982, and Michigan State from 1983 to 1987.
After the 1987 season, Kent State passed over Saban for its vacant head coaching position and hired Dick Crum. Saban was then hired as an assistant for the Houston Oilers in the National Football League.
Saban began his career as a head coach when he was hired by the University of Toledo on December 22, 1989. Coming off of 6–5 seasons in both 1988 and 1989, the Rockets found quick success under Nick Saban in 1990. With a 9–2 season, Toledo was co-champion of the Mid-American Conference. The two games the Rockets lost that season were by narrow margins: one point to Central Michigan and four points to Navy. While coaching in Toledo, Saban turned down an application from future head coach Urban Meyer, who was looking for any coaching job on Saban’s staff.
The following February, Saban resigned as Toledo’s head coach after only one season in order to become defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns under head coach Bill Belichick. He remained in that position for four seasons. Saban later said these four years were the “worst of my life”.
Saban arrived in East Lansing, Michigan prior to the 1995 season. Michigan State had not had a winning season since 1990, and the team was sanctioned by the NCAA for recruiting violations that were committed under his predecessor and former mentor, George Perles.
Beginning in 1995, Saban moderately improved Michigan State’s fortunes, taking the Spartans to bowl games in each of his first three seasons. From 1995 to 1997, Michigan State finished 6–5–1, 6–6, and 7–5. In comparison, MSU had finished 5–6, 6–6, and 5–6 (prior to NCAA forfeits) in 1992–1994.
On November 7, 1998, the Spartans upset the No. 1 ranked Ohio State 28–24 at Ohio Stadium. However, even after the upset and an early-season rout of then-highly ranked Notre Dame the Spartans finished 6–6, including three last-minute losses featuring turnovers, defensive lapses, and special-teams misplays, and failed to earn a bowl invitation.
In his 11th season, Alabama started the season #1 in both the AP and Coaches poll for the second consecutive year. This is the 10th season in a row that Alabama was #1 at a point during the season and 4th time to start the season under Saban. In the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in a matchup of top 3 teams, Alabama beat #3 Florida State 24–7. Alabama improved to 5–0 in Chick-fil-A games and Saban improved to 11–0 against former assistant coaches. In the home opener, the Tide defeated Fresno State 41–10. The next week Alabama defeated Colorado State 41–23. In the conference opener, the Tide dominated Vanderbilt 59–0. The following week, Alabama manhandled Ole Miss 66–3, the most points in a game since 1979. The next week, Alabama went on the road and defeated Texas A&M 27–19. The next week, the Tide defeated Arkansas 41–9 for the 11th win in a row in the series. In the annual Third Saturday in October, the Tide defeated Tennessee 45–7. The win is the 11th consecutive victory over the Vols, tying the record set back from 1971–1981. Following the bye week, Alabama won its seventh consecutive game over rival #19 LSU 24–10. Alabama then traveled to Starkville and escaped with a 31-24 win over #18 Mississippi State. The win secured Saban’s 10th consecutive season with 10 or more wins. On Senior Day, Alabama dominated FCS opponent Mercer 56-0. The win gave Saban’s senior class its 51st win, tying the NCAA record. In the Iron Bowl, the Tide suffered its first loss of the season to in state rival #6 Auburn 26-14. Alabama wins a share of the SEC Western division title, their 6th in a row. They finish the regular season 11-1. On December 3, Alabama was selected to the College Football Playoff for the 4th consecutive year. They were chosen as the #4 seed and played the #1 seed Clemson Tigers at the Sugar Bowl. In the rematch of the previous two National Championship games, Alabama avenged last season’s only loss to Clemson winning 24-6. The win gave Saban his first Sugar Bowl victory as Alabama’s coach, ending a 3-game losing streak in the bowl. The win secured Saban his third consecutive appearance in the College Football Playoff Championship game. It also gave Saban’s Senior class an NCAA record 52nd win. Alabama took on the #3 seed Georgia Bulldogs in the 2nd ever National Championship game between SEC schools. In overtime, backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw the game winning touchdown pass to Devonta Smith for a 26-23 victory. This is Alabama’s 17th National Championship and fifth title in nine seasons. Saban tied Coach Paul W. Bryant with six National Championships for most all time in the poll era. The Tide finished the season 13-1.
In this twelfth season, Alabama started the season ranked #1 in the AP and coaches poll for the third consecutive year. In the Camping World Kickoff in Orlando, FL, the Tide defeated Louisville 51-14.
He is a devout Roman Catholic who attends Mass before games. The Sabans attend St. Francis of Assisi University Parish In Tuscaloosa. St. Francis’ Parish priest, Father Gerald Holloway, served as a chaplain for the football team before he was transferred. Saban owns a vacation home on Lake Burton in northeast Georgia.
Saban is of Croatian origin. Bill Belichick and Saban are good friends. When Belichick spoke about their relationship, he said: “Two successful Croats in the same division of NFL. You must admit, you don’t see that every day.”
Saban shares his last name with another famous football coach, Lou Saban. They were called “distant cousins” in a 2005 article where Lou comments on the younger Saban’s success. Upon the death of Lou Saban, his widow Joyce Saban said the two men might have been second cousins, but their families say they are not related.
Saban made a cameo appearance as himself in the movie The Blind Side. In August 2010, the movie Nick Saban: Gamechanger was released. Included in the film are interviews from Belichick and Alabama athletic director Mal Moore, among others.
Saban and his wife Terry are the co-founders of the foundation Nick’s Kids. This foundation has been used by the Sabans to help mentally challenged children ever since Saban started head coaching. In the first three years at Alabama, Nick’s Kids raised more than US$1 million.