TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The text messages on Greg Byrne’s cellphone were pouring in, more than 1,000 and counting.

Like most around the college football world, Alabama’s athletic director was still processing what had transpired about 2½ hours earlier that afternoon.

Nick Saban had walked into the team meeting room at the Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility and told his players he was retiring. After 17 seasons, 206 wins, nine SEC championships and six national titles at Alabama, one of the greatest coaching runs in American sports history was over.

And Byrne was on the clock.

He understood the enormity of what he was tasked with, the momentous challenge of hiring the replacement for a legend.

“When you’re approaching a historic transition like that, you think about when Coach [Bear] Bryant retired, when John Wooden retired, but it’s also different now because of the transfer portal and NIL,” Byrne said. “But from an impact on a university and the sport itself, it’s as big a change as there has been in a long time.”

Saban spoke with his players for six minutes before leaving the room. Byrne then told the team he would have a new coach in place within 72 hours.

“It ended up being 49. I thought I would beat the 72-hour window but wanted to give myself some padding,” Byrne said.

Saban’s meeting with his players ended at 5:06 p.m. ET on Jan. 10. At 6:06 p.m. ET on Jan. 12, Byrne posted a photo on social media with smoke rising from a chimney — like the Vatican does when there’s a new pope, except this time it was the chimney of a Tuscaloosa barbecue joint — confirming that Washington’s Kalen DeBoer was Saban’s replacement.

Through conversations with the principals involved and other industry sources, ESPN retraced that head-spinning week, which ushered in a new era of Alabama football and, in some ways, reshaped the landscape of the entire sport.

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