National Signing Day 2024: How fallout from Nick Saban's retirement has impacted college football recruiting

Heading into the 2023 college football season, the hot-button topic the entire offseason centered around conference realignment. The season eventually began and attention turned to the on-field storylines. Georgia remained No. 1 throughout the entire regular season. Alabama returned to the College Football Playoff field. Michigan defeated Ohio State for the third consecutive season. Everything had remained as it’s been the past few seasons. 

On Monday, Jan, 8, nobody had it better than Michigan after the Wolverines defeated Washington in the College Football Playoff National Championship. For the previous 17 years, nobody had it better than Alabama.

On Feb. 1, however, neither program had their national championship-winning head coach any longer.

Two days after Jim Harbaugh led his alma mater to its first national title since 1997, the greatest coach in college football, Nick Saban, announced his retirement. That triggered quite possibly the craziest January in the history of the sport. 

You thought the coaching carousel during Thanksgiving weekend in 2021 — Lincoln Riley leaving Oklahoma for USC and Brian Kelly bolting Notre Dame for LSU — was something? The craziness of the past three weeks have made that look like a random MAC game on a Wednesday night in November.

Saban retiring from Alabama led Kalen DeBoer to leave Washington for the gargantuan task of replacing the legend in Tuscaloosa. DeBoer’s move opened the door for Jedd Fisch to leave Arizona for the Huskies job. Fisch’s departure gave way to Brent Brennan leaving his post at San Jose State to lead the Wildcats. 

Oh, and then, Jim Harbaugh decided he was ready for an NFL return. That paved the way for offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore to take over the reigning national champions. 

All of that chaos has unleashed a flurry of recruiting activity during a month that’s become quiet since the advent of the early signing period in December.

Saban’s retirement didn’t just impact Alabama, Washington, Arizona and San Jose State. It also affected South Alabama and Buffalo as both Kane Wommack and Maurice Linguist left their respective head-coaching positions to join DeBoer as assistants.

Throw in Harbaugh leaving Michigan, and there were seven head coaching openings in January with the traditional National Signing Day on Wednesday, Feb. 7 fast approaching. 

How chaotic carousel affected 2024 recruiting class

Alabama lost its highest-rated offensive signee — five-star QB Julian Sayin — to the transfer portal after Sayin signed during the early signing period. He ultimately ended up committing to Ohio State. Meanwhile, four-star wide receiver signee Jameer Grimsley went the same portal route and ended up at Florida. In good news for the Crimson Tide, however, five-star receiver Ryan Williams reclassified from the 2025 class to 2024. While it looked like he might flip to Iron Bowl rival Auburn, Williams announced that he would remain committed and will sign with the Tide on National Signing Day. 

Washington lost its highest-rated signee, four-star EDGE Noah Carter, as he was released from his National Letter of Intent and followed DeBoer to Alabama. Fellow four-star defensive lineman Ratumana Bulabalavu asked out of his NLI. Four-star prospect Paki Finau — the Huskies’ top offensive line signee — is in the transfer portal, though he’s yet to decide on destination.

Arizona lost four-star All-American quarterback signee Demond Williams, who they flipped from Ole Miss. Williams entered the portal and followed Fisch to Washington. Meanwhile, four-star athlete Rahshawn Clark, who they flipped from Cal just before the early signing period, asked out of his NLI and is likely to sign with hometown Washington. 

These moves don’t even take into account all of the decommitments from the 2025 class that impacted those schools. Washington, for example, lost a commitment from the No. 1 player in the state, four-star LB Zaydrius Rainey-Sale. After committing to the Huskies hours before the national title game, Rainey-Sale decommitted when DeBoer left for Alabama just days later. 

Throughout Saban’s legendary career, he finished with the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation an astounding 10 times. Even in retirement, his impact is still being felt on the recruiting trail as 2024 National Signing Day nears. 

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