Kalen DeBoer makes unofficial Alabama coaching debut before big crowd at spring game


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama fans hungry for a return to national-title contention filled Bryant-Denny Stadium for Nick Saban’s first spring game.

Kalen DeBoer steps into a much different situation 17 years later. DeBoer wrapped up his first spring with the Crimson Tide on Saturday just a few months into the task of trying to maintain the juggernaut Saban built while navigating a very different world of NIL and the transfer portal.

His unofficial debut at Bryant-Denny Stadium drew an announced crowd of 72,358 for the A-Day game, nearly 2,000 more than Husky Stadium’s capacity at Washington. If the scrimmage was not a true gauge of how Alabama will look in DeBoer’s first season, the turnout illustrates the level of interest — and perhaps curiosity and anxiety.

“Saban’s the type of guy, he built something,” said season-ticket holder Todd Eddleman, a 58-year-old from Cullman who also was at Saban’s first spring game. “He doesn’t want to see it lose either. He’s proud of what he built. This guy right here, he can keep it up there, there’s no doubt in my mind. I think he’s a great recruiter and coach. I think he’s done a fabulous job, and that’s not an easy thing to do.

“I think his response will be the same as Saban: When Saban was here and 100,000 showed up he looked at his assistant coaches and said, ‘I think we came to the right spot.’”

Saban’s first A-Day scrimmage drew a then-capacity 92,138 fans in 2007, but he arrived for a program on a 15-year national title drought with a championship of his own on the resume at LSU. He was on hand for the scrimmage and addressed the team beforehand.

DeBoer, who led Washington to the national championship game in just his second year, said it was his first taste of “feeling the energy and the excitement of what it would be on a Saturday” during the season. “That was a lot of fun.”

He told the players to “enjoy this moment”, especially the ones who like himself were in their first action before Tide fans.

“I made sure that they relished this day,” DeBoer said. “When you say those things, you do it yourself as well.”

DeBoer takes over a program that has won six national championships during Saban’s 17-year tenure and was in contention far more often than not.

There was some restlessness among the fan base even before Saban’s retirement in January, since the Tide haven’t won it all since 2020. Now, Alabama is hoping DeBoer can maintain what Saban established or close to it.

“We have to trust the process, because everything’s so different right now,” quarterback Jalen Milroe said. “But we still have goals as a program. The standard is the standard, and we all go back to that as a group. We’re all behind Coach DeBoer, we’re all confident in him. And we’re just passionate. We’re passionate to play for our family, passionate to play for the state of Alabama, passionate to play for Coach DeBoer and our coaching staff.”

And the fans are similarly passionate.

Tuscaloosa’s Mike Lowe came to his first spring game in about 10 years, saying he felt a mixture of anxiety and optimism.

“This is something we wanted to see for our own self,” said Lowe, 66. “I think he’ll do good.” But, he added: “You can’t replace Nick Saban.”

The new regime had to deal with defections through the transfer portal, losing safety Caleb Downs and highly touted freshman quarterback Julian Sayin to Ohio State and leading receiver Isaiah Bond to Texas, among others. Left tackle Kadyn Proctor transferred to Iowa but could be on his way back after leaving that program.

DeBoer intends to mine the portal for at least another defensive back and an offensive lineman.

In the meantime, longtime fan Josh Canaday gives him an “A-plus” for holding the team and the recruiting class together.

“I can’t imagine having a guy that I’m saying, I think he can keep it going after Saban,” said Canaday, who made the trip from Cullman with Eddleman. “I think this guy can.”

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football



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