Alabama coach Nick Saban sounds nothing like a man pondering retirement | Goodbread

Chase Goodbread
The Tuscaloosa News

How much longer will Nick Saban want to coach?

The pondering on that topic comes courtesy of punditry, like it always does, and it's been a little louder in recent months. Could the advent of NIL revenue for players drive college football's best coach into his duck-watching years? That question floated around SEC Media Days and has carried radio segments on slow news days this summer. Alabama fans don't want the day to ever come, and fans of rivals count the minutes until it does – a dichotomy that can make for some compelling sports talk.

It's been fueled in part by the frustration Saban has expressed in how NIL, the general concept of which he embraces, has impacted recruiting. Opposing coaches have signaled it to recruits in hopes of turning them away from Alabama, Saban has noted. That he'll turn 71 in October has powered the narrative as well, along with the fact that he's achieved more in his profession than anyone could ever hope to.

SABAN'S 15:Celebrate Nick Saban's 15 epic seasons at Alabama football with our special book!

GOODBREAD:Passing lightning aside, help of a thunderous running game never lost on Saban

WATCH:Nick Saban gives JoJo Earle injury update

He sounded nothing like a coach pondering the end on Wednesday. He didn't bring retirement up specifically, and indeed, he scoffs at the notion when asked. But Saban said a visit to the team from future Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald this week helped him articulate why he remains so vibrant.

A player asked Fitzgerald how he found the motivation to excel in the NFL toward the end of a 17-year, 11-Pro Bowl career with the Arizona Cardinals. Fitzgerald's answer – that he loved the process of preparation, and all that came with it from watching film to putting in extra practice time – struck the coach perhaps even more than the players.

"I get asked a lot, and I never ever thought of this. How do you stay motivated? I never really can answer it. But I love the process," Saban said. "I love practicing, I like getting ready for practice, I like coaching the players on the field, trying to get them to play as good as they can be so that they have the best chance to be successful."

Does that sound like a coach pondering the end to you? Me, neither.

NIL has flipped recruiting upside down, completely disrupting a system that Saban had learned to navigate to near perfection. He was the undisputed king of recruiting how it used to be, and time will tell if he can keep that throne in the NIL era that, for many recruits, relegates all the old selling points secondary to money. Early indications, including what is currently ranked the nation's No.2 signing class for next year, are that he can.

But for all the changes NIL has brought to the game, it doesn't penetrate any of the things that Saban said keep him sharp: his love for practice and preparation, for process and progress. Even in the NIL era, those are still the things that command the majority of his time and attention. He doesn't have to care what a player's NIL deal is worth when it comes to the grind of improving.

For him, it's about the grind itself.

Reach Chase Goodbread at cgoodbread@gannett.com. Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread

Tuscaloosa News sport columnist Chase Goodbread.