ATHENS — Kalen DeBoer knew he would have a challenge filling Nick Saban’s shoes at Alabama when left a CFP Washington team to replace the seven-time national championship coach in Tuscaloosa.

Especially when Saban is still in them, still maintaining a physical presence in Tuscaloosa.

Saban, after his 17-year tenure leading the Crimson Tide, still has an office inside of Bryant-Denny Stadium.

“I really believe that Coach Saban wants this program to become even bigger and better in the years to come,” DeBoer said at the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Fla., earlier this offseason.

“To me, that is going to continue to add to his legacy that is, yes, under my leadership right now.

“But it only makes the foundation that he set, as well as many others, who have poured their blood sweat and tears into this place, even stronger.”

Saban pledged in January he would still be available for players, which appeared at the time to be an attempt to prevent mass transfers as anything else.

After all, Saban is becoming a weekly host on ESPN College GameDay, the anchor program on the cable giant’s powerhouse programming platform on Saturday.

Further, it was well-documented last year that Saban had purchased a $17.5-million Jupiter Island (Fla.) home, somewhat telegraphing his future retirement.

DeBoer, however, confirmed Saban’s interaction is very real, particularly after he was hired to replace the coaching legend in January.

“Early on it was a lot of questions on stuff, personnel, players, and it isn’t just me, it’s our staff,” DeBoer said.

“Defensively, Coach (Kane) Wommack has been over and met with Coach Saban a number of times and (he) continues to,” DeBoer said. “It’s just learning, everything that (Saban) has taken in over all these years.”

DeBoer has two coaches remaining from the Huskies staff — Nick Sheridan and JaMarcus Shephard — and retained Freddie Roach and Robert Gillespie from Saban’s final staff.

Wommack was South Alabama’s head coach last season, while other staff members hail from Baylor (2), Wisconsin, Buffalo and Georgia Southern.

“You talk about professional development, what more do you want?” DeBoer said, emphasizing the positives of having access to Saban. “I love that our staff, and not just Coach Wommack, but other staff who have had interest in continuing to grow and continue to learn, whether it’s themselves and what they do in their process, or how it pertains to the conference that we are now coaching in.”

No doubt, at least half of the SEC teams have a former Saban assistant coach on their current staff, including four former Alabama assistants leading programs at Georgia (Kirby Smart), Florida (Billy Napier), Texas (Steve Sarkisian), and Ole Miss (Lane Kiffin).

“As we really get into the fire, as the fall comes around I expect there will be some very pointed questions that I have to things that apply, probably more directly to the situation we are in,” DeBoer said, acknowledging Saban’s influence in the league and their potential networking.

“Any information is information that can help make good decisions for our program. I’m talking to coaches all the time, you have your people you are really close to, and the relationship with Coach Saban, he’s going to want what’s best for Alabama.”