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Coaches Leave College Football Playoff Teams for New Opportunities: How Players are Reacting

INDIANAPOLIS — In an offseason already fluctuating from wild to chaotic off the field, college football was further rocked in January when three coaches departed three College Football Playoff programs in the span of 14 days.

Alabama’s Nick Saban, the most decorated college football coach of this generation and arguably the greatest in the sport’s history, stepped aside on Jan. 10. Two days later, Alabama hired Washington’s Kalen DeBoer as Saban’s replacement. On Jan. 24, Jim Harbaugh left the national champion Michigan Wolverines for the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers.

All three leave behind players they recruited and coached. At the NFL Scouting Combine on Wednesday, prospects spoke with fondness for their former coaches. Some were surprised at their decisions to leave while others were unfazed. All seemed to recognize their former coaches’ exits were business decisions and none had hard feelings for their former mentors.

Kalen DeBoer left Washington for Alabama days after leading the Huskies to the national championship game. (John David Mercer / USA Today)

Alabama edge rushers Chris Braswell and Dallas Turner had opposite takes as to their level of surprise when Saban retired, but both spoke with reverence for their former leader who won six national titles at Alabama.

“I was very shocked,” Braswell said. “I thought he was gonna coach until the wheels fell off. I didn’t think he was going to retire. When I (saw) it on Twitter, I thought it was like a meme or whatnot.”

Turner said he saw Saban change throughout the season, which made the coach’s announcement less surprising.

“From how it was my freshman year to my junior year, I’ve seen a lot of changes,” Turner said. “He cut a lot more jokes and stuff like that. It started to be more player led; it’s always been player led since he’s been there, but you could tell that the players really had a lot of say-so. And he was a lot more open. So a lot of more ideas.

“He was truly coach Saban on the field, of course. But you could tell the slight changes.”

Braswell didn’t want to contradict his former teammate, but he didn’t agree with Turner.

“He was the same coach to me,” Braswell said. “Sometimes Dallas sees things I don’t see. But I don’t know. I didn’t think he was gonna retire, like just his love and passion for the game. He’s always talking about football. He loves, eats, bleeds, sleeps football. So I didn’t think he’d retire.”

DeBoer replacing Saban is filled with challenges, of course, and it created upheaval at Washington, which fell to Michigan in the national title game. After DeBoer left, 23 Huskies entered the transfer portal and three other committed players re-entered the portal, according to On3. Five withdrew when Arizona’s Jedd Fisch replaced DeBoer, but four others followed their coach to Alabama.

“I definitely feel for the players,” Washington edge defender Edefuan Ulofoshio said. “I mean, it’s hard. You just went to a national championship (game) and then you have this giant turnover. But at the same time, I see it both ways.

“That guy, he has a family and more importantly, he has dreams and he has goals, too. And just talking to him, I told him, ‘I don’t have any issues with you doing it because like, I’m not gonna hate you or criticize you for doing what’s best for you and your family.’ And that’s what it was.”

Fellow Washington edge rusher Bralen Trice acknowledges he was more focused on preparing for the combine than following the drama around DeBoer’s departure.

“It sucked for our younger guys, but they’ve got all the right people around them,” Trice said. “With coach Fisch out there, all the other coaches, they’re set up for success. I think they’re going to be great regardless. Congrats to coach DeBoer for going out there and getting another job. But I think everybody’s going to do great, and I’m excited for all of them.”

Michigan’s players had a history with the Harbaugh-NFL speculation, so there was no surprise when he bolted back to the next level. Harbaugh was 89-25 in nine seasons at Michigan, including winning the Wolverines’ first national title since 1997.

“He was so transparent with us,” Michigan defensive lineman Braiden McGregor said. “I think it was my sophomore year when he was deciding if he was going to go back to the league or not. He just said, ‘My dream is to win the Super Bowl. If I get the opportunity to go back, like, I’m gonna go.’”

“He left on a high note,” defensive lineman Jaylen Harrell said. “He won the national championship. He can do whatever he wanted. He gave the university all he’s got. We got the (first) national championship since ’97 or whatnot. I’m happy for him to go pursue his Super Bowl journey.”

Defensive tackle Kris Jenkins echoed his former teammates’ thoughts.

“He 100 percent deserves this opportunity,” Jenkins said. “He’s an amazing coach. He deserves it. So, shout out to him.

“As a team, we definitely all felt the same way. He deserves it, and we want to see him succeed and tear it up at the next level.”

(Photo of Kris Jenkins of the Michigan Wolverines: Nic Antaya / Getty Images)

2024-02-28 22:56:24
#Michigan #Alabama #Washington #players #NFL #combine #talk #coaching

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