Take 5: Top Alabama replacements for Nick Saban
The bombshell Wednesday night that Alabama head coach Nick Saban is retiring elicited one clear question.
Saban, 72, has won seven national titles -- six of them coming in the past 17 years at Alabama. That ties him with fellow legend Bear Bryant for the most in program history.
Those are some mighty big shoes to fill, and Saban's departure immediately brought numerous marquee names to the surface. Here are five top candidates Alabama could tap to take over for Saban.
5. Dan Lanning, Oregon
When Lanning's name surfaced in connection with Texas A&M after the Aggies fired Jimbo Fisher in November, he was quick to say, "I'm not going anywhere. "There's zero chance that I would be coaching somewhere else. I've got unfinished business here."
Could an opportunity to succeed Saban soften that stance?
Lanning, 37, came to Oregon after serving as Kirby Smart's defensive coordinator at Georgia for three seasons. Oh, and he did spend a year as a graduate assistant on Saban's staff in 2015.
That said, Lanning was extremely emphatic two months ago that he has no intention of leaving Eugene anytime soon.
"I'll continue to say it until I'm blue in the face. I want to be here at Oregon. That hasn't changed, that won't change," Lanning said in November.
4. Bill O'Brien, Former Alabama OC
It's hard to believe that O'Brien is still only 54 years old. He first came to prominence as the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator in 2011 before taking on the daunting task of replacing Joe Paterno at Penn State.
That tenure lasted two years before O'Brien returned to the NFL as the Texans' head coach. He led Houston to the AFC South title in just his second season and went on to reach the postseason four times before being fired in 2020.
He took over for Steve Sarkisian as Saban's offensive coordinator three months later and helped Alabama compile a 24-4 record while averaging over 41 points per game over two years. O'Brien returned to the Patriots last year, but could another stint in Tuscaloosa be on the horizon?
3. Mike Norvell, Florida State
Norvell has returned Florida State to national prominence in just four seasons, guiding the Seminoles to an undefeated regular season and the Atlantic Coast Conference title in 2023. FSU was controversially left out of the College Football Playoff, in favor of Saban's one-loss Crimson Tide.
Norvell, 42, is young, energetic and an excellent recruiter. He has also proven adept at working the transfer portal to find key pieces. The Texas native lacks the Southeastern Conference roots of the other names on this list, but he is 69-32 overall as a head coach and is a proven Power Five winner.
After watching the CFP snub FSU due to the perceived weakness of the ACC, Norvell just might be tempted to make the jump.
2. Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss
Kiffin's name figures to be the most polarizing on this list, with strong feelings having already been expressed on both sides of the coin. Kiffin, 48, famously served as Saban's offensive coordinator from 2014-16 after being fired by Southern California. He returned to head coaching with Florida Atlantic in 2017 before taking over in Oxford three years later.
Kiffin has built Ole Miss into a legitimate SEC power, leading the Rebels to the first 11-win season in program history. He also signed an extension last month and has leveraged the "tremendous support of the Grove Collective" to hit the transfer portal as aggressively as any team in the country.
However, there were also rumors that he declined the Auburn job last year for fear that it would prevent him from ever replacing Saban if the opportunity arose.
1. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Swinney has long been tied to rumors that he might eventually replace Saban at his alma mater. That was especially true as Swinney built Clemson into a powerhouse that twice beat Alabama in national title games. Swinney's program has fallen off in recent years, including a 9-4 record in 2023. However, Swinney is still only 54 years old and has proven he can shine on college football's biggest stages.
It would be a full-circle story for the Pelham, Ala., native and former walk-on for the Crimson Tide who was a member of Alabama's 1992 national championship team. Clemson has been aware of that potential for quite some time, and Swinney's 10-year contract signed in 2022 includes a $7.5 million payment that he would owe the school should he leave for Alabama.
--Field Level Media
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