Kalen DeBoer’s move to Alabama is a step toward greatness — but there are countless perils

The journey through the coaching carousel that conveyed Alabama football from Bear Bryant to Nick Saban is succinctly described as such: The Crimson Tide finally got it totally right when they hired the guy who followed the guy who followed the guy who followed the guy who followed the guy who followed the guy who followed the guy who followed the guy.

That is how difficult it is to replace a legend, even when your football program has been one of the greatest in history. It took Notre Dame three tries to go from Ara Parseghian to Lou Holtz, then five more to get to Brian Kelly.

So even for Alabama, it’s not as easy as glancing at the final AP top 25 and determining which coach who just has a fabulous year they happen to like best. Because coaches know these histories, these stories – and if they don’t, their agents do.

This is why we saw Oregon coach Dan Lanning, Texas coach Steve Sarkisian and Florida State’s Mike Norvell rapidly declare they were remaining in their current positions and looking toward the future. They have great jobs that pay them millions, and Norvell is getting more millions for staying with the Seminoles, and the national championship trophy can be won at their current programs.

BENDER: Can Kalen DeBoer keep Alabama as Top 5 program?

Kalen DeBoer says ‘yes’ to Alabama

Kalen DeBoer is the brave soul who said yes.

And it may work out for him.

If it does not, he won’t be able to say we didn’t warn him.

DeBoer is a fabulous football coach who has won everywhere he’s been. His record is 104-12, and five of the nine teams he led completed undefeated regular seasons.He does not have deep ties to Washington or Seattle; he coached the Huskies for two seasons.

If he does not win at Alabama – does not win at the level demanded, I mean – there’s little doubt he’ll be able to find another place to coach that is similar or equivalent to Washington.

There could be some difficult times, though, on the way to that next stop, even if there are many more wins than losses. With the Tide, it’s a question of how many more. As was said today on the “Dusty and Danny in the Morning” program on SiriusXM College, the next coach could produce consecutive 9-3 seasons and “find himself on the hot seat.”

That’s how high the standard is that Saban set for the Tide. After his first season with the program, he never once failed to win double-digit games. He was college football’s version of a Marvel cartoon superhero. Ohio State’s Urban Meyer reigned for a while at Florida and Ohio State, and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney had his moment, and Kirby Smart at Georgia appears to be in such a position now, but Saban was always there, for 16 years.

How does anyone human live up to that?

No doubt it is magnificent that someone who began his college football career playing and assistant coaching and eventually head coaching at the University of Sioux Falls is getting to run the most powerful program of the past half-century.

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Kalen DeBoer

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Kalen DeBoer coaching in the home of legends

Like, it’s Bear Bryant, Nick Saban, and now Kalen DeBoer. The first two won a combined 12 national championships at Alabama. DeBoer won three NAIA titles at Sioux Falls. If you thought this circumstance would develop at the dawn of the 2023 season, you have the sort of prescience that makes sports book managers sweat through their vests.

Bryant’s mark on Alabama never will leave Tuscaloosa, though. He is an almost spiritual figure. And Saban’s record is supernatural. No true competitor backs away from a challenge, but there were plenty of challenges where DeBoer was coaching, lots of money and a whole lot less expectation.

If you think about it, even Bill Belichick couldn’t meet the standard Bill Belichick and Tom Brady created in their two decades together as coach and quarterback. With the Patriots, they won six Super Bowls between 2001 and 2019, and they appeared in three more. Since Brady split for the Buccaneers, and for retirement, Belichick won only 43 percent of the games he coached.

New England’s recent struggles will make it easier for Jerod Mayo, who was hired Friday to coach the Patriots. There is no such luxury at Alabama. Saban won the last SEC Championship game he coached, and his final game was in the College Football Playoff, where it took overtime to eliminate his Tide.

It would be inaccurate to say there’s nowhere to go but down, but just about every step DeBoer takes will carry the risk of a precipitous plunge.

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