Kalen DeBoer comes close to tears as he delivers emotional message to his former Washington players at his first Alabama press conference: ‘I love ya, I will miss ya, I want nothing but the best for everyone back there’

Newly hired Alabama football coach Kalen DeBoer may be entering his dream job, but that didn’t make it any easier to leave his Washington Huskies players behind.

At his introductory press conference on Monday in Tuscaloosa, the 49-year-old DeBoer directed an emotional message back to the Huskies’ locker room in Seattle.

‘I just wanted to tell everyone cause I know they’re watching, I just want to tell you guys I love ya, I will miss ya and, you know, I want nothing but the best for everyone back there,’ DeBoer said.

A day earlier, DeBoer informed his now-former Huskies players that he would be replacing Nick Saban at Alabama following Washington’s dramatic 2023 season that ended with a Pac-12 title and an appearance in the College Football Playoff championship.

He also offered an emotional message to his new Crimson Tide players, who are, themselves, getting over Saban’s departure.

Alabama football coach Kalen DeBoer talks to media in his introductory press conference

Outgoing Alabama head coach Nick Saban shakes hands at Saturday's press conference

Outgoing Alabama head coach Nick Saban shakes hands at Saturday’s press conference 

Then-Washington Huskies head coach Kalen DeBoer talks to his team before the Sugar Bowl

Then-Washington Huskies head coach Kalen DeBoer talks to his team before the Sugar Bowl 

‘It’s a special place to me,’ DeBoer said of Tuscaloosa. ‘It really is. This was one of the few places – maybe the only place – that I would have ever left [Washington] to come coach at, because I understand what Alabama is all about.

‘I know what they’re going through, because I saw the same thing less than 24 hours ago,’ he said of the Tide players.

He also addressed the massive expectations he’s facing following in the footsteps of a seven-time national champion, six of which came at Alabama.

Calling Saban ‘the best to ever do it,’ DeBoer pledged that Saban has ‘100-percent access’ to the team going forward.

‘I’d be a fool if that wasn’t the case,’ he said.

DeBoer walked away from the potential of a massive new contract with the Huskies for the opportunity of leading one of the premier programs in the country with resources and cachet that new Washington athletic director Troy Dannen couldn´t match.

But by doing so, DeBoer left a program facing an uncertain future and major challenges headed to the Big Ten starting next season with a roster that could be picked apart by the time a new coach is in place.

The crowd at Bryant-Denney Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama listens to the new Tide coach

The crowd at Bryant-Denney Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama listens to the new Tide coach 

As edge rusher Zion Tuputola-Fetui posted on social media on Friday, ‘Sometimes we have to be reminded it´s all a business.’

‘We are sad to see him leave and we did all that we could to keep Kalen at UW,’ Dannen said in a statement Friday night.

It´s hard to find the downside in a 14-1 season that ended with playing for a national title. Even into the early moments of the fourth quarter of Monday´s 34-13 loss to Michigan, there were hopes that Washington could put together one more comeback and win the school´s first title since 1991.

But the success of the season raised DeBoer´s profile to the point of being on Alabama´s short list when Saban decided to step away. Throw in that Dannen is new in Seattle – he was hired in October – and it created a circumstance where DeBoer leaving for a premier job was a possibility.

None of that could have been expected when DeBoer was hired by former AD Jen Cohen and inherited a 4-8 program. The sudden turnaround of the past two years created rabid optimism from fans who hoped that DeBoer would be the next version of Don James, who regularly would have Washington in the national conversation.

Instead, he’s headed for the Southeastern Conference, and Washington’s pending move to the Big Ten appears to be facing massive tests for whoever takes over next.

alen DeBoer and his wife Nicole DeBoer react as he is introduced as the new head coach

alen DeBoer and his wife Nicole DeBoer react as he is introduced as the new head coach 

The exodus after Washington played for a national title was going to include countless players with pro futures. And it has with the likes of Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan, Bralen Trice and Dillon Johnson all declaring for the NFL draft. The Huskies won´t have Michael Penix Jr., their Heisman Trophy runner-up quarterback, either.

It didn´t take long after the DeBoer news broke for some important pieces to Washington´s success this season to announce their plans to enter the transfer portal. And some of Washington’s future is now unknown, with expected reinforcements from the portal saying their commitment is now reopened. That includes quarterback Will Rogers, who was expected to take over for Penix, linebacker Ethan Barr and tight end Tre Watson.

The easiest way for Washington to stop any potential flood of departures or decommitments and attempt to build on this season would be rapidly filling the opening. The likes of Arizona´s Jedd Fisch, Iowa State´s Matt Campbell and Kansas´ Lance Leipold will be floated as external options. Ryan Grubb will be an obvious in-house choice if he doesn´t follow DeBoer. JaMarcus Shephard should get similar consideration.

But less than a week removed, it’s a far different place from where Washington expected to be when walking off the field in Houston.

‘We have one of the best head coaching jobs in all of college football, with our recent success, our upcoming entry into the premier intercollegiate athletics conference, the Big Ten, our passionate supporters and fanbase, and a world-class university,’ Dannen said.

It just won’t be under DeBoer’s watch.

Outgoing Alabama head coach Nick Saban takes his seat at Saturday's press conference

Outgoing Alabama head coach Nick Saban takes his seat at Saturday’s press conference 

Then-Sioux Falls head coach Kalen DeBoer celebrates a national title win with players in 2008

Then-Sioux Falls head coach Kalen DeBoer celebrates a national title win with players in 2008

DeBoer is a former NAIA coach who led Washington to the national championship game in his second season. Now, he takes over a program where Saban made that kind of success an annual expectation.

‘He has a proven track record of success and is one of the brightest football minds,’ Saban said in a Friday statement. ‘Coach DeBoer has an excellent understanding of what it takes to be a successful head coach, whether it’s coaching, recruiting, developing players or building a culture.

Saban released his own statement on Friday

Saban released his own statement on Friday

‘He has done a fantastic job at every stop of his coaching career, and I am excited to see what he will be able to accomplish in Tuscaloosa.’

Saban then added that he and his wife Terry ‘will be here to support Coach DeBoer and his family with anything they need.’

Alabama did not disclose details of DeBoer’s contract pending formal approval of its board of trustees.

Saban announced his retirement Wednesday after leading the Crimson Tide to six national championships in 17 seasons. He leaves massive shoes to fill and outsized expectations at the program Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant helped build and Saban took to even greater heights.

Saban also won a national title at LSU and his seven championships are a major college record. The Crimson Tide have been in national title contention just about every season since winning their first in 17 years back in 2009, Saban’s third season.

The task of maintaining that standard falls to a coach with just two years of experience leading a Power Five program.

‘Coach DeBoer has proven he is a winner and has done an incredible job as a head coach at each of his stops,’ Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne said. ‘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.



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