Alabama hires Washington’s Kalen DeBoer to replace Nick Saban as coach

By Christopher Kamrani, Bruce Feldman, Kennington Smith III and Chris Vannini

The man chosen to succeed the greatest college football coach in the history of the sport is from rural South Dakota, whom some Crimson Tide fans have certainly never heard of. At least until the last 72 hours.

Kalen DeBoer, known within the industry as a program builder and digger, told his staff in Washington that he will accept an offer from Alabama for Nick Saban’s former coaching job, team sources confirmed Friday. DeBoer met with his Washington team Friday afternoon to explain why he is making the move, sources said.

Alabama officially announced the news of the hiring Friday night.

“Following Coach Saban is an honor,” DeBoer said in a statement from the school. “It has been the standard of college football and its success is unprecedented. He wouldn’t have left Washington to go to just any school. “The opportunity to lead the University of Alabama football program is the opportunity of a lifetime.”

DeBoer, 49, went 25-3 in two years in Washington, leading the Huskies from the frustrations of a 4-8 campaign under a previous coaching regime in 2021. Saban, who won six national championships while he was in charge of the program, shocked the sports world on Wednesday afternoon when it was announced that he was retiring at the age of 72.

DeBoer, Washington and their revitalized fan base were not even 48 hours away from the heartbreak of a 34-13 loss to Michigan in the College Football Playoff national championship Monday night in Houston.

“Kalen DeBoer has been an outstanding leader of our football program and what he accomplished in two seasons at Montlake will always be a part of our history,” Washington athletic director Troy Dannen said. “We are sad to see him go and did everything we could to keep Kalen at the University of Washington.”

While the pool of candidates to replace Saban ranged from former trusted assistants like Texas’ Steve Sarkisian to those groomed under him like Oregon’s Dan Lanning, the list was slowly whittled down throughout the athletic director’s rapid process. of Alabama, Greg Byrne.

On Thursday morning, Lanning, Saban’s former graduate assistant, announced on social media that he would stay in Eugene. Sarkisian is close to finalizing a contract extension to stay with Texas.


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In the end, it was all in the hands of DeBoer, Florida State head coach Mike Norvell and Alabama offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. Earlier Friday, Norvell and FSU agreed to a new deal.

In DeBoer, Byrne opted for what some might perceive as an unconventional hire, a man who has never coached in the SEC. Sometime this fall, DeBoer hired college football coach super agent Jimmy Sexton, who represents most SEC coaches, including Saban.

“Coach DeBoer has proven that he is a winner and has done an incredible job as a head coach at each of his stops,” Byrne said Friday. “One of the things I told our team the other day is that we are going to get someone who is not only a great coach with the X’s and O’s, but also someone who cares about his players and someone who I would like for my children to play. Because, just like I would have liked them to play for Coach Saban. We got that in Coach DeBoer.”

As seen over the past two days, several dominoes had to tip in the direction of Byrne traveling to Seattle to find his successor to Saban.

There will be no rebuilding or mining from the depths for DeBoer in Tuscaloosa. This is strictly an operation of competing and winning national titles every year he faces. In Washington, DeBoer installed an offense that became the most entertaining in the sport in 2023, highlighted by a Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback in Michael Penix Jr., three future NFL wide receivers and the best offensive line in the country.

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“I think it’s about how he’s wired,” former Washington coach Chris Petersen said last month when asked what makes DeBoer a great coach.

“Kalen is strong in his convictions. He knows what he wants to do. He is calm. He is prepared. ‘So-and-so just got hurt. So-and-so is moving. I know it bothers you. But it’s not the end of the world and he’s fluid,” Petersen continued. “How do we continue to adjust and adapt? Those are the things that really catch my attention. Yes, he is a very good offensive mind. Yes, he is a good organizer. In my opinion, that’s lower on the totem pole of what makes it special.”

DeBoer was hired in November 2021 after two years leading Fresno State, where he went 12-6 and tutored future NFL quarterback Jake Haener. From 2005 to 2009, he won three NAIA national titles with Sioux Falls and led the program to the title game all five years. From 2010 to 2019, DeBoer bounced around the country at various levels as offensive coordinator for Southern Illinois (2010-2013), Eastern Michigan (2014-2016), Fresno State (2017-2018) and Indiana (2019 ).

At every stop, DeBoer’s offensive philosophy preached taking advantage of open space for playmakers and freedom for the quarterback who has been among the best in the country.

“I think there is a base of what the system is, but it has a lot of flexibility to grow and evolve. He will always be around our staff. It’s going to be quarterback-driven,” DeBoer said. The Athletic before the Sugar Bowl victory over Texas. “The quarterback will be able to take us as far as he can with his skills and his understanding of the offense. But in the end, everything will work out around the players we have. We’ve done it with the strength of our team being the tight ends, we’ve done it with the strength of our team being the running backs, the receivers, we’ve been successful in a lot of different ways.”

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Over the past two years, the Huskies went 10-1 against Top 25 teams. DeBoer is 12-2 all-time against ranked opponents. He has also been dominant against his contemporaries in the sport and against some who were in contention for the Alabama job. He was 3-0 against Lanning, 2-0 against Sarkisian and 1-0 against USC’s Lincoln Riley.

Washington was the No. 1 passing offense in the country in 2023 and 12th overall in total offense. Even though Alabama also qualified for the College Football Playoff, the Crimson Tide offense was not what it had been in recent years. He ranked 56th in total offense and 68th in passing offense.

Before the national title game, Washington defensive lineman Faatui Tuitele said The Athletic that DeBoer fixed a broken locker room.

“Our culture was really damaged during that time, but then Coach DeBoer came along,” he said. “Everything has been so amazing. “It really changed our culture for the better.”

At Alabama, the culture has been Nick Saban and he has been competing for titles since 2007. But those who know DeBoer well believe he is uniquely prepared for such circumstances.

“Kalen has a humble arrogance,” said a former Washington staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Her temperament of hers is very unique. He doesn’t say bad words. He remains very stable all the time.”

What will Alabama be like with DeBoer?

Recruiting and retaining Alabama’s roster is a top priority, as evidenced by wide receiver Isaiah Bond entering the transfer portal on Friday. The best way for DeBoer to do that is to assemble his coaching staff with the same urgency he had in the head coaching search.

The first question is which of Alabama’s current coaches will DeBoer keep? Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, who interviewed for the head coaching job this week, is of particular interest and secondary coach Travaris Robinson, a valued assistant and recruiter within the South’s footprint, is likely a high-priority coach for keep DeBoer on staff.

Three assistant coaching positions are vacant: wide receivers, outside linebackers and defensive coordinator. Wide receiver is perhaps the most important position to fill, as securing that position as soon as possible will help Alabama’s chances of regaining the commitment of 2024 five-star Ryan Williams, who was released from Alabama amid retirement. from Saban and is signing during the late signing. February day.

Overall, finalizing the coaching staff and moving to retain the current roster and begin recruiting the 2025 class is DeBoer’s first major task as Alabama coach.

What’s next for Washington?

As for what’s in store for Washington, it remains to be seen if DeBoer will bring offensive coordinator and fellow coach Ryan Grubb to Tuscaloosa. Ironically, Saban offered Grubb the offensive coordinator job last offseason, but Grubb turned it down to see how far the 2023 Huskies could go.

Regardless of whether Grubb moves on, Washington will be a different team next season. A host of stars are starting, including Penix and wide receiver Rome Odunze, although former Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers has transferred. The University of Washington is also headed to the Big Ten, where competition will be tougher and the Huskies will be at a financial disadvantage by not receiving full conference participation.

Grubb would be an easy internal promotion. Possible outside names could include Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell, Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch, Kansas head coach Lance Leipold, Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, BYU head coach Kalani Sitake , Cal head coach Justin Wilcox, San Jose State head coach Brent Brennan, Washington State head coach Jake Dickert, former Auburn/Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin, and coach New Mexico Chief Bronco Mendenhall.

But new athletic director Troy Dannen just arrived in Seattle from Tulane in October, meaning this search could go in numerous directions.

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(Photo: Alika Jenner/Getty Images)