TUSCALOOSA, AL — University of Alabama head football coach Kalen DeBoer leaned on a table as he took questions from print reporters in a media room at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday afternoon.
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Interestingly, just behind his left shoulder on the wall, was a large photo of a grinning Nick Saban hoisting the 2020 College Football Playoff championship trophy — much in the same way Saban’s unprecedented legacy is sure to continue looming over the program.
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DeBoer was formally introduced as the program’s 28th head coach during a 1 p.m. press conference Saturday inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. As is typically the case, though, much of what was offered to the room full of dignitaries, media and university officials could be classified as “coach speak,” which did very little to add insight into the events that led up to DeBoer being hired, along with how he plans to make his mark on the program.
Click here or on the video link below to watch the full press conference from Saturday
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Following the press conference, though, Byrne and DeBoer both met with members of the media for question-and-answer sessions that provided a wealth of new insight into the wildly pivotal 49 hours after Nick Saban announced his retirement on Wednesday. As Byrne put it, he told the team he would have a new coach in 72 hours and delivered on that promise with plenty of time to spare.
Byrne was the first to take questions and was immediately asked how he settled on DeBoer as the next head coach, before saying he wasn’t taken by surprise when Saban decided to retire and dispelling rumors that there were other candidates higher up on the wishlist.
“Well, as you all know, I’ve got ties out that way,” Byrne said of the west coast. “And, so to be honest, and I’ve said this from the time that Regina and I came here seven years ago, my goal was as the athletics director to do everything we could to support Coach Saban … So, as you can imagine over time, I was always preparing, hoping that I’d never have to execute the plan. But when the time came, I felt we had a good solid plan.”
Byrne went on to say that he left Tuscaloosa the night he learned of Saban’s retirement and immediately began discussions with DeBoer and his wife in Seattle on Thursday.
“I left town that night and was on the road until I came back into town yesterday afternoon,” he said.
Joined on the trip by his wife, Regina, who played a central role as her husband wooed Alabama’s new football coach, Byrne pointed out that when looking at the head coach for the program, the ideal candidate’s wife needs to be “all in on it.”
“You saw the partnership that Coach and Miss Terry had,” he explained. “And so, with Coach DeBoer and Nicole, that was really obvious right off the bat. I was able to get her feedback, so they came in yesterday and here we are.”
Despite the excitement buzzing around the program and Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday, a looming question is similar to those posed after the retirement of Bear Bryant, namely what kind of foolhardy coach would volunteer to replace an icon like Saban.
“As I thought about it over the years, one of the things I thought about was you better have somebody that’s comfortable in their own skin,” Byrne said. “And who looks at this as a challenge and as an opportunity, not as a detriment and, almost immediately for Coach DeBoer and Nicole, too … They saw this as a wonderful opportunity.”
Byrne also addressed the fact that Saban said in his primetime interview with ESPN’s Rece Davis that he would have an office in the stadium and continue to have a role in the program.
“He has told me that for a lot of years that whenever that time came, he wants to see the program keep succeeding at a high level and anything he could do to help in that process, he’s going to do,” Byrne said. “So I’m gonna let [Saban and DeBoer] kind of work through some of that bit.”
Saban and Miss Terry were both seated on the front row during Saturday’s press conference and have been vocal in their support for DeBoer.
Byrne has had arguably one of the busiest weeks of his entire administrative career, but lit up as he reflected on Friday night at Tuscaloosa National Airport, when hundreds turned out and braved the cold to welcome DeBoer to Tuscaloosa.
“When the plane landed last night and all those people were out there at the airport when Regina and I showed up, to greet them and then we leave the airport and then we go through downtown Northport and everybody’s lined sidewalks there and we come up the bridge and go across the Black Warrior River and go through downtown when people are lined up there and go through The Strip and everybody’s going crazy. You know, [it’s like] the tagline for the SEC, ‘It just means more,’ and until you’re here, you really don’t completely grasp that.”
DeBoer does have an understanding of stepping into big shoes, though, and mentioned his mentors and predecessors when he followed Byrne to speak to members of the media Saturday.
“The best you can do is take experiences, and this is me personally, which are on a smaller level than we’re talking about with Coach Saban,” DeBoer conceded, offering yet another remark praising his legendary predecessor. “It’s just great ones that have been in places, Chris Petersen at [Washington], Jeff Tedford, Pat Hill at Fresno [State] and others on down the line. I think embracing everything about it that made that place great and especially the great people and in these particular cases, the great head coaches embracing that, learning as quickly as possible, trying to make as few mistakes as far as losing those traditions that are important to the fan base to the players and all those type of things.
“That’s all you can ask of yourself is just embrace all of it that comes along with being in this position and following coaches about building out your staff,” he added.
This sentiment is likely to bode well with the Crimson Tide faithful as some stress over the inevitable changes on the horizon following the single-most successful stretch in college football as Saban posted a record 16 straight 10-win seasons.
The players are the most important group at this juncture, though. And while DeBoer declined to offer much intel on big-time transfer decisions, he said he was already working tirelessly to manage who is still with the team.
Time will be of the essence, though, with news breaking Saturday that defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson would be leaving for Georgia, which came less than 24 hours after Alabama receiver Isaiah Bond — who snagged the winning catch in the 2023 Iron Bowl — had entered the NCAA Transfer Portal.
DeBoer met with the team Friday night, with Bama Central’s Joe Gaither reporting from the Mal Moore Athletic Facility that Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Milroe loudly announced his plans to stay in Tuscaloosa.
But DeBoer was candid in explaining his level of familiarity with the program and the staff at present, while stopping short of mentioning any names for a possible replacement for Kevin Steele, who also announced he was retiring as defensive coordinator.
“I’ll work on getting the staff in order very quickly,” DeBoer told reporters Saturday. “There’ll be a touch of Washington in there. … There are experiences, having been West Coast and at Indiana [as offensive coordinator] and just some of the recruiting, but I don’t wanna lead you on that. There’s not every coach’s phone number in my phone right now. I just gotta put myself in a spot where the right people are around me.”
For those still trying to get a read on the new coach with the interesting last name, DeBoer also made it a point that he was not a “west coast guy.”
As Patch previously reported, DeBoer is from Milbank, South Dakota, played college football and baseball at the University of Sioux Falls and ultimately led his alma mater to three NAIA championships early in his coaching career.
Byrne, referencing his hiring of Alabama men’s basketball coach Nate Oats, said he wanted a coach who knew what grits and sweet tea were.
“You know, I’ve never been to the west coast until just a few years ago and coached at two universities out there [Fresno State and Washington],” he said. So I think there’s an ability to adapt that I feel confident in.”
Despite his personable demeanor and the fact he has found success at every school he’s coached at, DeBoer is faced with the challenges of high expectations from the fan base, the nuances of the modern game and the roster chaos wrought by the NCAA Transfer Portal.
So when asked about the pitch he was making to players to get them to stay in Tuscaloosa, he said he wants to try to show them a little of his vision for where he wants the program to be.
“I’ve also told them that I understand you can’t buy into my vision until you truly know me,” he said. “So just give me a chance. … I’m gonna listen to you. I’m gonna meet you where you’re at right now and try to show them through some proof of things that have happened [at Washington or his other stops].”
After the press conference and media availability concluded, a few dozen fans waited anxiously along the Walk of Champions hoping for a glimpse of the new coach.
Joined by his wife, DeBoer then became the first man not named Nick Saban in nearly two decades to walk out of Bryant-Denny Stadium as the head coach of the Crimson Tide.
Click here to watch the moment.
While he wasn’t able to linger around and bond more with fans, the excitement was apparent on their faces the first time they heard him say the words “Roll Tide.”
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