NCAA Football: Washington State at Washington

Alabama has moved quickly to name Nick Saban's successor by hiring Washington coach Kalen DeBoer. Friday's announcement comes just two days after the legendary Saban retired following 17 seasons leading the program. 

Leading the Huskies to a 14-1 record this past season, including a 34-13 loss in the College Football Playoff National Championship to Michigan, DeBoer has emerged as one of the best coaches in college football across two seasons at Washington, going 25-3 with a pair of top-10 finishes and a Pac-12 championship. 

"We are excited to welcome Kalen and Nicole DeBoer, and their daughters, Alexis and Avery, to The University of Alabama," said Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne in a statement. "Coach DeBoer has proven he is a winner and has done an incredible job as a head coach at each of his stops. One of the things I told our team the other day is we are going to get someone who is not only a great coach with the Xs and Os, but also someone who cares about his players and someone I'd want my sons to play for, just like I would have wanted them to play for Coach Saban. We got that in Coach DeBoer. He is ready to get to work, and we look forward to him leading the Alabama Crimson Tide football program for years to come. We are grateful to our leadership in President Stuart Bell, Chancellor Finis St. John and The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees for their support during this process."

To begin his head-coaching career, DeBoer led his alma mater, Sioux Falls, to 67 wins over five seasons with three NAIA national championships from 2005-09 before moving to Division I as an assistant with stops at Southern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Fresno State and Indiana. He was then hired as Fresno State coach prior to the 2020 season before landing at Washington ahead of the 2022 season. DeBoer's record across all divisions is an outstanding 104-12 (.897).

Accolades for DeBoer this season included not just a Pac-12 title and CFP appearance but also multiple national Coach of the Year honors, including here at CBS Sports. DeBoer's buyout to leave the Huskies stands at $12 million.

"I have always had an incredible respect for Alabama football and its commitment to excellence," DeBoer said. "The tradition-rich history of this program is unmatched across the landscape of college athletics, and I look forward to continuing that moving forward. Following Coach Saban is an honor. He has been the standard for college football, and his success is unprecedented. I would not have left Washington for just any school. The chance to lead the football program at The University of Alabama is the opportunity of a lifetime. My family and I feel truly blessed and look forward to becoming a part of the Tuscaloosa community."

The Washington program had just gone through an uncharacteristic 4-8 season prior to DeBoer's arrival, and it was difficult work to spark the immediate turnaround to Pac-12 title contention and 11 wins in Year 1. But what DeBoer showed in his ability to retain talent amid that turnaround could be a huge key to his first couple of seasons in with the Crimson Tide. 

Alabama is not in the wake of a losing season, but there are going to be plenty of opportunities elsewhere for blue-chip prospects who had initially committed to be coached by Saban. Players currently on the roster also have 30 days to enter the transfer portal. DeBoer needs to win over those players like he did many of the veterans who helped lead Washington's 2023 playoff run. That, plus key staff decisions, will keep DeBoer busy in his first days and weeks on the job in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Success against big-time opponents

There is little room to question DeBoer's track record as an on-field tactician. In his brief head-coaching career, DeBoer is 3-0 against Oregon coach Dan Lanning, 2-0 against Texas coach Steve Sarkisian and 2-0 against USC coach Lincoln Riley. His only three losses at Washington came away from home against opponents who were ranked in the AP Top 25. DeBoer's success against Lanning is particularly striking considering the Oregon coach was immediately pinpointed as the top target after Saban's retirement announcement. The Huskies topped Oregon 37-34 on the road last season and beat Lanning's Ducks twice in 2023 during a pair of tightly contested top-10 battles. 

Even dating back to his stint at Fresno State, DeBoer showed the ability to outmaneuver highly regarded opponents. His Bulldogs nearly upset No. 11 Oregon on the road in 2021 before falling 31-24. Fresno State did, however, take down No. 13 UCLA and No. 21 San Diego Sate on the road that season.

Quarterback guru

DeBoer played receiver at Sioux Falls from 1993-96 and has proven to be a wide receiver's dream as a coach, illustrated by the prolific production of Washington's Rome Odunze this season. But, his reputation as an offensive guru hinges upon his development of quarterbacks. There is no better example than Michael Penix Jr., who just concluded an incredible two-year stint as Washington's signal-caller. The two also worked together at Indiana in 2019 when DeBoer was Hoosiers offensive coordinator. In Penix's three seasons at Indiana without DeBoer, his best quarterback rating was 136.5. In his three college seasons with DeBoer, his worst quarterback rating was 151.3. Penix surpassed 4,600 yards passing each of the past two seasons and threw for 67 touchdowns.

Among DeBoer's other recent pupils is Jake Haener, who turned into a star under DeBoer's tutelage at Fresno State. Haener earned All-Mountain West Conference honors in both of DeBoer's seasons coaching the Bulldogs. If Jalen Milroe returns as Alabama's quarterbacks as he intends, one of his strengths will dovetail nicely with a hallmark principle of DeBoer's offensive system. Washington thrived throwing the football downfield under DeBoer, and Milroe continually improved as a downfield passer while leading the Tide to the College Football Playoff in 2023. 

Recruiting concerns

Prior to his prolific two-year run at Washington, the extent of DeBoer's power-conference experience was the one-year stint he served as Indiana's offensive coordinator in 2019. He's never worked in the SEC, in any capacity, and the furthest south he's ever been employed was from 2010-13 as offensive coordinator at Southern Illinois. So, questioning how DeBoer will handle the cutthroat recruiting wars of SEC football are fair. Washington's 2023 recruiting class ranked No. 29 and fourth in the Pac-12. The Huskies' 2024 class ranks 29th as well and is 10th in the Big Ten. 

One cautionary tale can be found at his new arch rival Auburn, which parted with Bryan Harsin in 2022. Harsin spent less than two years on the job after arriving from Boise State, and like DeBoer, he had no SEC experience and little familiarity with the league's geographical footprint. The Tigers struggled to recruit under his direction, and he was jettisoned after posting a 9-12 record. 

But, on the flip side, there is someone like Urban Meyer, who arrived at Florida for the 2005 season after posting a 22-2 mark in two seasons at Utah and proceeded to win a pair of national championships in six seasons with the Gators. Meyer had no SEC experience and had never worked in the area but won big anyway.