Alabama begins spring practice Tuesday, kicking off yet another season with Nick Saban and the Tide in the center of the national championship discussion.
After winning five national titles in nine years and putting together an .899 win percentage over the past decade, Saban, at 66 years old, has cemented himself as the greatest of all time. There's no longer much of a discussion about where he sits in the pantheon of college coaches -- the only debate is when his reign of dominance will come to an end.
SEC rivals hope it comes sooner, and Alabama fans hope it endures forever. But to hear Saban and his peers talk, it sounds like there are no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
"That's what everybody keeps saying, that I'm not going to be doing this for much longer, and all the people who say it have no idea what I'm going to do," Saban told ESPN. "I've been involved in some fashion with football and being a part of a football team ever since I can remember. I don't know what it would be like not doing it and don't want to know."
Steve Spurrier was 70 when he retired from coaching, stepping down from his post at South Carolina after a Hall of Fame career that included a national championship and six SEC crowns at Florida. He offered to ESPN his own prediction of Saban's expiration date, and it's not going to make the rest of the conference feel much better about the immediate future.
"Nick ain't thinking about retiring, not even close," Spurrier said. "He can go into his 70s easy, and I think he will.
"I told him he won't retire until he loses three games in a season. He told me, 'If I ever lose three games around here again, they might kill me.' I think he was joking, but I'm not sure."
While Saban might or might not fear actual harm in the event of a bad season, he did admit that one certainty to the conclusion of his career is not wanting to hang on too long.
"What I don't want to do is just stay forever, forever and forever and ride the program down where I'm not creating value," Saban told ESPN. "I would never want to do that, and I think I'm a long ways from doing that."
As the 2018 season begins in earnest for Alabama, the loss of value does seem a long ways away. As the Tide battled back from a 13-0 halftime deficit against Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, the effort was powered by a handful of superstar freshmen on offense, including quarterback Tua Tagavailoa, whose eligibility keeps them competing for starting jobs for at least two more seasons.
Tack on a few more seasons based exclusively on the permanence of the Tide's recruiting success -- remember, 2018 was the "down year," and they were still No. 7 in the country with 14 of the 19 signees being four- or five-star prospects -- and you can quickly see how Alabama is going remain in the national championship conversation beyond Saban's 70th birthday.
Until that fateful three-loss season comes along, there's no reason to think that Spurrier's prediction on Saban's longevity is anything but spot-on.