‘It was a beautiful ride’: Local LSU, Alabama fans react to Saban’s retirement

Published 12:31 pm Thursday, January 11, 2024

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NATCHEZ — Tom Graning has been a diehard LSU fan for as long as he can remember.

And for Graning, Wednesday was a “good day.”

“It’s a good day for LSU fans,” Graning said of the announcement that legendary Alabama football coach Nick Saban is retiring. “But it’s a sad day for college football.”

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Saban, 72, stunned the college football world by announcing his retirement to his football team on Wednesday afternoon. In a statement released by the University of Alabama, Saban said he and his wife Terry would always consider Alabama their home.

“The University of Alabama has been a very special place to Terry and me,” Saban said. “We have enjoyed every minute of our 17 years being the head coach at Alabama as well as becoming a part of the Tuscaloosa community. It is not just about how many games we won and lost, but it’s about the legacy and how we went about it. We always tried to do it the right way. The goal was always to help players create more value for their future, be the best player they could be and be more successful in life because they were part of the program. Hopefully, we have done that, and we will always consider Alabama our home.”

Graning met Saban several times while Saban coached LSU football.

“His program at Alabama is what every program strives to be,” Graning said. “College football will be different without him. He brought our program at LSU back. He jump-started our program and led us on the path we are on now. We hated to see him leave. And we hated to face him at Alabama.”

Barry Loy and his wife, Sue, are avid LSU fans. Loy expressed similar sentiments.

“He is the best coach that has ever been, even better than Bear Bryant. I hate to say that out loud, but it’s the truth. Bear Bryant wasn’t as good as Nick Saban,” Loy said. “I think he deserves retirement.”

The Loys’ sons, Josh and Ryan, are LSU graduates and the Loys have been season ticket holders since 2002.

“We even went to some away games this year,” Loy said.

“We hated to see (Coach Saban) leave LSU, and we hated to see him go to Alabama because he kicked our butts. However, if he had not come to LSU, our program would not be where it is today. He got us started,” he said.

Natchez’s Sally Durkin fell in love with Alabama football at age 9 and was a student at the University of Alabama from 1976 through 1978.

“I was there under the Bear Bryant regime,” Durkin said. “The whole reason I went to school there was because I loved Alabama football.”

Durkin reacted to the news that Saban is retiring.

“I wasn’t surprised in the least,” Durkin said. “What is he, in his 70s? It’s time. He deserves his retirement.”

Durkin played one season on the Alabama women’s basketball team but gave that up to focus on academics.

“Coach Saban continued the tradition of great recruiting and great coaching that I loved about Alabama,” she said. “We had some bad seasons under Mike Shula and Bill Curry and a couple of other coaches who succeeded Bear Bryant. So, when Nick opted to come to Alabama after trying out professional football and it not working for him, I was thrilled. I knew he was a fantastic football coach. He has given us 17 great seasons.”

Durkin said she feels for the person who will replace Saban at Alabama.

“Those are going to be some big shoes for someone to fill. I feel sorry for them if they don’t keep up the same recruiting success and winning seasons Alabama has enjoyed for so long,” she said.

“One of my favorite things about Coach Saban was the way he addressed the fan base about the players when everybody was down on them after losing games. What particularly impressed me is that he reminded the fan base that these are kids, fresh out of high school. Give them a break. I thought what he said was pretty compelling and very realistic,” Durkin said.

Like Durkin, Natchez native Edward Killelea went to college at the University of Alabama, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the School of Communication.

“When I decided to go to the University of Alabama back in 1982, there was a larger-than-life coach on the sideline that simply went by the name, ‘The Bear.’ Coach Bear Bryant was the standard of college football at the time,” Killelea said. “I remember being at the football games and staring at him on the sidelines and being in awe.”

Except for the 1992 national championship season under Gene Stallings, what followed Bear Bryant at Alabama was mostly mediocrity, he said.

“Then Coach Nick Saban or shall I call him Coach Savior, was hired. I feel he changed college football for the next 17 years. He made Alabama the standard again and his impact was felt after his first season with multiple 11-, 12-, 13-, and 14-win seasons and six national championships at Alabama,” Killelea said.

He said Saban put so many players in the NFL and he developed so many coaches only to be hired away by other Power Five conferences.

“This made every year a rebuilding year for players and coaches. This made me a nervous wreck every year wondering how our team will do the next season. With this daunting task every year, he was still able to keep winning and this made him revered by all his adversaries,” Killelea said.

“To say Alabama alumni and fans have been beyond spoiled for the past 17 years under Coach Nick Saban is an understatement. I felt that same awe for Nick Saban I had for ‘The Bear’ many years ago. There will never be another Coach Nick Saban, so we say but, everyone said there would never be another ‘Bear.’ Roll Tide and it was a beautiful ride!”