James Jones column: Enjoyed connections with Nick Saban

Published 6:49 am Monday, January 15, 2024

Alabama football fans are mourning the retirement of Crimson Tide football coach Nick Saban.

who announced his retirement on Wednesday at the Capstone. Saban met with the Crimson Tide players, informing them he was stepping down after 17 years at Alabama and

shockwaves went through my body when I heard the news Wednesday in Prattville. 

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I was at Bama Fever-Tiger Pride searching for Crimson Tide shirts when a clerk informed me of the news.

“Did you hear that Nick Saban has retired?” the young teenager said. 

It was one of those moments that rendered me speechless. According to family and friends, that rarely happens. I was sad and stunned at the news.

I never met nor personally interviewed Saban, but my professional association with him began in 1999. I was a sportswriter with The Biloxi-Sun Herald when Saban left Michigan State for LSU. Saban signed Picayune tight end Mit Cole, who played as a true freshman in 2004. The All-Coast selection eventually won a national title under coach Les Miles, but Saban set the foundation for that championship team. 

My connection to Saban continued when he became Alabama’s coach in 2007. 

Saban’s knowledge of the Mississippi Coast served him well, recruiting two All-Coast players that I covered, D’Iberville wide receiver Kevin Norwood and Picayune tight end Malcolm Faciane. 

Norwood meant the most to me because I watched him go from a pee wee star to The Sun Herald player of the year in 2008. Even when Norwood got into Saban’s doghouse, he never gave up and “overcame adversity,” as Saban put it.

I covered the 2011 BCS Championship Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, in which the Crimson Tide beat LSU 21-0.  I went to interview Norwood in the Alabama locker room. Norwood, who had a strong game, delivered a surprise to me. 

“I want to thank you for sticking with me even when I wasn’t playing, you never gave up on me,” Norwood told me.

I told Norwood I was simply doing my job and always kept up with the local kids doing well. Norwood won three national titles at Alabama. 

Other than being part of a Pulitizer-winning newspaper in 2006 for Hurricane Katrina coverage, it was one of the proudest moments as a journalist.

Faciane was a reserve on two national title teams. 

To me, Saban is the greatest college football coach who ever lived. No one will ever come close to the record seven national championships.

I will always remember Saban from the players he recruited in my Mississippi coast coverage area. A lasting memory.