Ryan Clark rants about Alabama and Nick Saban on First Take. Ryan Clark rants about Alabama and Nick Saban on First Take. (Awful Announcing on Twitter.)

There have been a lot of discussions about who will be the next head coach at Alabama following Nick Saban’s surprising retirement Wednesday. But an unusual perspective came from ESPN NFL analyst Ryan Clark, who played under Saban at LSU. In a remarkable rant on First Take, Clark had plenty of trash talk for the Crimson Tide and their fans, but centered that around the idea that no top-tier candidate wants to have the burden of following Saban’s remarkable success at Alabama:

“You know what? I don’t even care what the topic is. I want to talk to all you Louisiana folks who is driving around Louisiana, all in Baton Rouge with your Roll Tide license plates, with your little funky Alabama flag on your windows, walking around with your little elephant ears and trunk and all that. Go ahead and put it all up, because ain’t none of y’all going to be happy with these eight- and nine-win seasons with whoever takes over the job.

“I do not care who’s the next coach, because he ain’t going to be the right coach, because he ain’t going to be Nick Saban. And that’s why nobody wants the job! You know, right now, people are treating the Alabama job like people treated Lamar Jackson last year when you had an opportunity to trade for him, everybody was all out. ‘I don’t want the job, I don’t want Lamar Jackson.’ We need to go kick the tires.

“Dan Lanning, he doesn’t want the job. Texas, Steve Sarkisian, he don’t want the job. Nobody wants to go after Nick Saban in Alabama. Nobody wants it! And I played in the SEC when Alabama wasn’t Bear Bryant’s Alabama and it wasn’t Nick Saban’s Alabama. Y’all think people really want to go to Tuscaloosa? Tuscaloosa ain’t cool.”

Stephen A. Smith then says “You can’t hold it against Sarkisian. You don’t leave Austin, Texas for Tuscaloosa.” And Clark says “You don’t. You think Loreal Sarkisian [Steve’s wife] wants to break out all them fire First Lady fits in Tuscaloosa? Noooo! So yeah, Alabama, get ready, eight wins, seven wins.” Panelist Chris Canty then says “Ooh. So back to Mike DeBose, Dennis Franchione, and Mike Shula? Back to them guys as coaches?” Clark says “Yeah, back to them, back to them. Brodie Croyle at quarterback!”

Some of that is obviously over-the-top trash talk against a rival of the school Clark went to, and contempt for the noted population of Alabama fans who live in Louisiana (Clark’s home state). But there is a point in there that maybe should be receiving more attention in this discussion.

The Crimson Tide had an amazing 2007-2023 run under Saban, winning six national titles and nine conference titles in that time and going 201–29 overall. But success on that level has not always been the case at Alabama, as illustrated by the tenures of DuBose, Franchione, and Shula, the three coaches before Saban (from 1997-2006). (Actually, Mike Price was in there as well, but never coached a game; he was hired in January 2003 to replace Franchione, who left for Texas A&M, but was fired that May around a strange scandal involving him being seen at a strip club.)

Shula’s four teams went 4-9, 6-6, 10-2, and 6-7 (with the wins of the latter two seasons later vacated for improper benefits of free textbooks, part of a wider Crimson Tide athletic department scandal), with Croyle as the main starting quarterback in 2005 (and an injury-limited starter the years before that). Franchione’s two teams went 7-5 and 10-3. And DuBose’s four teams went 4-7, 7-5, 10-3, and 3-8. So “eight wins, seven wins” is actually much better than a lot of what happened during those eras.

Granted, Alabama probably is not regressing to the darkest days of those eras, especially not immediately. The national brand the program built under Saban will be helpful going forward, and while they may lose some recruits and players following this coaching change, there’s still a ton of talent there. And the NIL era may be helpful in maintaining program prominence; the Crimson Tide have a massive fanbase and notable NIL collectives, which can provide significant opportunities there for players. So the Crimson Tide are probably not about to completely fall off the map regardless of who the next head coach is.

But Clark’s other point here on the difficulty of following Saban is well-taken. One of the toughest tasks in coaching is replacing an exiting legend, leading to constant comparisons that are rarely flattering. And Saban certainly an exiting legend. And yes, Lanning and Sarkisian have indicated they’re staying at their current jobs (although it isn’t clear they were specifically offered the Alabama job). Deion Sanders, who Smith was specifically stumping for earlier in this program, has not indicated that, but there are a whole lot of questions on if he’s even being considered and if he would do well there.

It does seem likely that the Crimson Tide will land a high-profile coach of some variety, and that they’ll still have a lot of talent for at least the short term. But many powerhouse programs have gone through extended dark periods. Even under Sarkisian alone, Texas was 5-7 in 2021 and 8-5 last year, and they had three seven-or-eight win seasons (of four) under predecessor Tom Herman, and a six-win season and two five-win seasons under Charlie Strong before that.

While an Alabama downfall on the level Clark predicts here seems a little unlikely, especially immediately, he does make fair points amidst his perhaps-hyperbolic trash talk. No program is guaranteed year-in, year-out success, and the Crimson Tide in the years right before Saban certainly didn’t have the level of success he hit. And being the coach who immediately follows Saban is going to be tough. Whether it will be as bad as Clark claims here is up for debate, but his perspective on the challenges of replacing Saban is valuable, even if it should be taken with some salt given his history with Alabama rival LSU.

[Awful Announcing on Twitter/X]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.