Alabama football coach Nick Saban is looking for two coordinators at the same time for only the second time since joining the Crimson Tide before the 2007 season.
He will replace offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and defensive coordinator Pete Golding.
O’Brien has decided to return to the NFL after two seasons at Alabama and will serve as New England’s offensive coordinator. O’Brien never planned to stay longer than a 24-month Tour of Duty under The Man.
Golding lasted five consecutive seasons under the Master Taskmaster. It looks rare. He is now the defensive coordinator of Ole Miss under the prodigal disciple of Saban Lane Kiffin, who is much more fun. And there’s not as much pressure at Ole Miss. Additionally, Golding will be closer to his wife Carolyn’s family. She’s from Cleveland, Mississippi, and went to Ole Miss.
Neither were fired. Both did a great job.
Nick Saban in no rush to fill coaching positions
Saban will take his time to hire his replacements. Saban’s search may extend to the end of February, well after the Super Bowl.
Possible candidates for offensive coordinator include Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, 39, Kansas State offensive coordinator Collin Klein, 33, former Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, 50, former Florida head coach Dan Mullen, 50, and Buffalo Bills quarterbacks coach Joe. Brady, 33 years old.
Lebby is a bit of a young Kiffin and performs the tempo type attack that is all the rage. He previously coordinated Ole Miss’ offense in 2020 and 21 under Kiffin. He, too, learned under Tennessee coach/tempo master Josh Heupel as Heupel’s offensive coordinator at Central Florida in 2019. Lebby came to Baylor as an assistant from 2008-16. He is the favorite.
LSU fans considered Brady the mastermind behind LSU’s fantastic offense that won the national championship in the 2019 season at 15-0 with him as the passing game coordinator. But Brady didn’t exactly set the NFL on fire as Carolina’s offensive coordinator in 2020 and 21 and was fired. Maybe it was Joe Burrow and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger?
Mullen is very interested, in part because he’s no longer a coach, unless you’re counting on Lake Oconee Academy in Greensboro, Georgia. Its title there is unique – “contributing resource”. Is it a river of knowledge? But Mullen has done a fantastic job as head coach at Mississippi State, especially with quarterback Dak Prescott. He just looks a little clumsy for Saban, and he’s damaged. But Lane Kiffin was too when Saban hired him in 2014.
Possible candidates for defensive coordinator include Alabama analyst and former Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, 56, Georgia defensive coordinator Glenn Schumann, 32, Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, 40, and former Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt, 48.
NCAA INVESTIGATION OF TENNESSEE AND JEREMY PRUITT
Grantham is very experienced and was coached by Saban from 1996 to 1998 on the Michigan State defensive line. He was Mullen’s defensive coordinator at Mississippi State in 2017, Louisville’s defensive coordinator from 2014-2016, and Georgia’s defensive coordinator from 2010-2013.
Schumann is a rising star and served as a student assistant and graduate assistant under Saban at Alabama from 2008 to 2014. He followed defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to Georgia after the 2015 season.
Leonhard served as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator from 2017-22, but was left out by new coach Luke Fickell. The Cleveland Browns recently considered Leonhard before signing former Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz.
Pruitt is a popular name, but Saban isn’t going to hire someone with the baggage of NCAA violations and penalties that Pruitt will bring to his next job.
Hiring history of Alabama coach coordinator Nick Saban
The first time Saban hired two coordinators at the same time in Alabama other than, obviously, his freshman year, was before the 2008 season. Saban replaced offensive coordinator Major Applewhite with Jim McElwain and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele with Kirby. Smart. McElwain did not know Saban and was from Fresno State. Smart previously coached under Saban at LSU with the Miami Dolphins and the previous year at Alabama. Both were there for his first national championship in Alabama in 2009.
Smart coached Alabama’s defense to national titles in 2011, 2012 and 2015 before becoming Georgia’s head coach in 2016 and winning the last two national crowns there. McElwain won two national titles with the Tide in 2009 and 2011 before serving as Colorado State head coach from 2012-14. He coached Florida from 2015-17 and won two SEC East titles.
At the start of the 2018 season, Saban replaced offensive co-coordinator Brian Daboll with alternate offensive co-coordinator Michael Locksley. Then he hired Golding from Texas-San Antonio. It was Saban’s only other dual-coordinator hire in Alabama.
In 2017, Daboll and Locksley replaced Kiffin, who left to coach Florida Atlantic before moving to Ole Miss in 2020. Golding replaced defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt ahead of the 2018 season.
Saban hires coaches in all sorts of ways – from his staff, from the unemployment line, from rehab, from his past, from the unknown, from afar, from the NFL and from Texas-San Antonio.
The Nick Saban Rehabilitation Project
Kiffin was one of the first graduates of the SRP – the Saban Rehabilitation Project. Grantham is in the program now after Mullen fired him during the 2021 season before Mullen was fired. Now Mullen wants in PRS. Kiffin had been fired as head coach from USC in 2016 and was out of work.
Many fans and media thought Saban was crazy for hiring Kiffin. He had shown his immaturity and lack of professionalism at USC. But Kiffin revolutionized Alabama’s passing offense into a national title in 2015. It broke a two-year “quiet” without crown Bama as he saved fans from Tuscaloosa County bridges.
Pruitt, meanwhile, worked in player development at Alabama during Saban’s first three seasons there and coached defensive backs under him from 2010-2012. state of Florida and Georgia. Pruitt led Tide’s defense to the national championship in 2017 before becoming Tennessee’s head coach in 2018.
Saban picked up Daboll from New England, where he was rehabilitating his tight ends coaching career from 2013 to 2016. Some have wondered why when Daboll was failing in offensive coordinator gigs with Cleveland and Miami in the NFL. After just 11 months of Tour of Duty under Saban, Daboll became Buffalo’s offensive coordinator from 2018-21. Now he’s the head coach of the New York Giants and just took them to the playoffs for the first time. since 2016.
“You put in your year or two for Nick, and you get a better job. It’s like a Tour of Duty,” LSU linebacker coach Kirk Doll mocked the Superdome days before the Saban Tigers beat Oklahoma for the national championship on Jan. 4, 2004. Doll had recently accepted his first NFL job as a special teams coach with the Denver Broncos after two seasons under Saban.
Alabama is something of a halfway house for practice openings
Locksley also graduated from the SRP as Saban made him a rookie offensive analyst in 2016. Maryland had just fired him as offensive coordinator. Within two years, he was clean and coach rehabilitated when Maryland rehired him — as head coach after the 2018 season, and he remains so.
Steve Sarkisian joined the SRP after USC fired him in the 2015 season, in part because of his drinking problem at the time. Sarkisian got better, worked as an offensive analyst in 2016, moved to offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons in 2017 and 2018, and returned to Alabama as offensive coordinator in 2019 and 20. He turned that in 2021 in the Texas head coaching position, where he remains.
So, yes, there are a lot of coaches who want to tour with General Saban.
When he hires you, it’s usually a higher profile position with a higher salary than you had before. And when you leave, you’ll probably have a better job for higher pay. The questions are, how long can you cope with it, the hours and the pressure? He’s not going to get fired, but you might be or ask you to move on.
And you might not see your wife and kids as much in other jobs or take as many vacations.
WILL NICK SABAN BE A COACH AT 80 LIKE COUSIN LOU SABAN?
Yes, Saban has mellowed at 71. He’s not as hard to work with as he was as a head coach at Michigan State, LSU or in his early years at Alabama. He no longer chooses his spots. But he is still Saban. And it doesn’t matter if he just won a national title or went two years without one. It does now, and he’s never gone more than two years without one.
Plus, Saban is due to retire in the next three or four years, one might think. So you know he’s gonna push like he’s 51 for one more title before he comes out. More pressure, candidates. Oh, and you may be the last two coordinators Saban hires. Think about it.
Nick Saban’s Schedule
After Saban won his first national championship in the 2003 season at LSU, he threw a party at his sprawling house that spring. He invited all his coaches and the media. A few reporters and assistant coaches huddled around a keg of beer on the industrial-size back porch that overlooked a pond. We weren’t allowed in the main house.
There were future college head coaches Jimbo Fisher, Will Muschamp, Derek Dooley and Kirby Smart.
“So I guess you’re going to have some free time now,” I said.
There was a long pause. Then Candi Fisher said, “Hell, no.”
And everyone started laughing.
“We have to be at work on Monday,” Jimbo Fisher said. “But we have a few weeks off.”
And the occasional night.
After Saban went to the Miami Dolphins after the 2004 season, Fisher remained at LSU under coach Les Miles. A neighbor noticed him and Candi sitting in the front yard frequently as he drove by in the late afternoon. He didn’t see him when Saban was in town.
Not much has changed, but hard work has its long and short term rewards. If you can go around and get yourself sabanized for a year or two… and avoid PTSD (post-traumatic saban disorder).