Alabama football coach Nick Saban is looking for two coordinators at the same time for just the second time since coming to the Crimson Tide before the 2007 season.
He will be replacing offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien and defensive coordinator Pete Golding.
O'Brien decided to return to the NFL after two seasons at Alabama and will be 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. That's rare air. He is now Ole Miss' defensive coordinator under Saban prodigal disciple Lane Kiffin, who is more fun, but doesn't win as much. No one does overall. And there is not nearly as much pressure at Ole Miss. Plus, Golding will be closer to his wife Carolyn's family. She is from Cleveland, Mississippi, and went to Ole Miss.
Neither were fired. Both did excellent jobs.
Nick Saban Does Not Hurry When Filling Coaching Openings
Saban will take his time hiring their replacements. Saban's searches can stretch into late February, well after the Super Bowl.
Among the possible candidates for offensive coordinator are Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, 39, Washington offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, 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.
Lebby is somewhat of a young Kiffin and runs the type tempo 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 up at Baylor as an assistant from 2008-16. He is the favorite.
LSU fans viewed Brady as the mastermind behind LSU's fantastic offense that won the national championship in the 2019 season at 15-0 with him as pass game coordinator. But Brady did not exactly set the NFL on fire as Carolina's offensive coordinator in 2020 and '21 and got fired. Perhaps it was more Joe Burrow and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger?
Mullen has been telling folks he is not interested, which is surprising as he is out of coaching, unless you count Lake Oconee Academy in Greensboro, Georgia. His title there is a unique one - "contributing resource." Is he a river of knowledge?
Mullen also likes his analyst gig at ESPN, though, which may be making him more selective. Or perhaps Saban was not that interested first. Mullen did do a fantastic job as Mississippi State's head coach, particularly with quarterback Dak Prescott. But he did not do so well at Florida with his quarterbacks or with recruiting. And he just seems a little goofy for Saban, and he is damaged goods. But then so was Lane Kiffin when Saban hired him in 2014.
Among the possible candidates for defensive coordinator are Alabama analyst and former Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, 56, Georgia co-defensive coordinator Glenn Schumann, 32, Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, 40, and former Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt, 48.
Grantham is very experienced and coached under Saban from 1996-98 on the defensive line at Michigan State. He was Mullen's defensive coordinator at Mississippi State in 2017, Louisville's defensive coordinator from 2014-16 and Georgia's defensive coordinator from 2010-13.
Schumann is a rising star and was a student assistant and graduate assistant under Saban at Alabama from 2008-14. He followed defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to Georgia after the 2015 season.
Leonhard was Wisconsin's defensive coordinator from 2017-22, but not retained by new coach Luke Fickell. The Cleveland Browns recently considered Leonhard before hiring former Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz.
Pruitt is a popular name, but Saban is not going to hire someone with the NCAA infractions baggage and sanctions Pruitt will bring to his next job.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban's Coordinator Hiring History
The first time Saban hired two coordinators at the same time at Alabama other than, obviously, his first 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 came from Fresno State. Smart previously coached under Saban at LSU with the Miami Dolphins and the year before at Alabama. Both were there for his first national championship at Alabama in 2009.
Smart coached Alabama's defense to national titles in 2011, '12 and '15 before becoming Georgia's head coach in 2016 and has won the last two national crowns there. McElwain won two national titles with the Tide in 2009 and 2011 before becoming Colorado State's head coach from 2012-14. He coached Florida 2015-17 and won two SEC East titles.
Going into the 2018 season, Saban replaced co-offensive coordinator Brian Daboll with the other co-offensive coordinator Michael Locksley. Then he hired Golding from Texas-San Antonio. That was the only other double-coordinator hire by Saban at Alabama.
In 2017, Daboll and Locksley replaced Kiffin, who left to become Florida Atlantic's coach before moving on to Ole Miss in 2020. Golding replaced defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt before the 2018 season.
Saban hires coaches in all kinds 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 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 SRP. Kiffin had been fired as USC's head coach in 2016 and was out of work.
Many fans and media thought Saban was crazy for hiring Kiffin. He had showed his immaturity and lack of professionalism at USC. But Kiffin revolutionized Alabama's passing offense to a national title in 2015. That broke a two-year "lull" without a Bama crown as he rescued fans from the Bridges of Tuscaloosa County.
Pruitt, meanwhile, worked in player development at Alabama in Saban's first three seasons there and coached defensive backs under him from 2010-12. He progressed to the defensive oordinator posts at Florida State and at Georgia. Pruitt led the Tide defense to the national championship in 2017 before becoming Tennessee's head coach in 2018.
Saban plucked Daboll from New England, where he was rehabbing his career as tight ends coach from 2013-16. Some wondered why as Daboll failed in offensive coordinator gigs with Cleveland and Miami in the NFL. After just an 11-month Tour of Duty under Saban, though, Daboll became Buffalo's offensive coordinator from 2018-21. Now, he is the New York Giants head coach 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 laughed at the Superdome a few days before Saban's Tigers beat Oklahoma for the national championship on Jan. 4, 2004. Doll had recently accepted his first NFL job as special teams coach with the Denver Broncos after two seasons under Saban.
"I'm too old for this (bleep)," then-defensive line coach Pete Jenkins said in his best Danny Glover from "Lethal Weapon." as he walked into the coaching offices at LSU in 2001. He was 60 at the time. And he left Saban after two years, but said back then he was the best and most versatile coach he ever coached under. Jenkins retired for six years before returning as the line coach for Philadelphia.
Alabama Is Sort Of A Halfway House For Coaching Openings
Locksley also graduated from SRP as Saban made him an entry-level offensive analyst in 2016. Maryland had just fired him as offensive coordinator. In two years, he was clean and coaching rehabilitated as Maryland hired him back - as head coach after the 2018 season, and he remains.
Steve Sarkisian entered SRP after USC fired him in the 2015 season, partly because of his drinking problem at the time. Sarkisian got better, worked as an offensive analyst in 2016, moved to the offensive coordinator job with the Atlanta Falcons in 2017 and '18 and returned to Alabama as offensive coordinator in 2019 and '20. He parlayed that in 2021 into the Texas head coaching job, where he remains.
So, yeah, there are many coaches out there who want to do a Tour with General Saban. Because he's the best and he wins big consistently - seven national championships since 2003.
When he hires you, it's usually a higher profile job with more pay than you previously had. And when you leave, you'll probably get a better job for more pay. The questions are, how long can you deal with him, the hours, and the pressure? He's not going to get fired, but you might be, or asked to move along.
And you might not get to see your wife and kids as much in other jobs or take as much vacation.
Yes, Saban has mellowed some at 71. He is not as hard to work for as he was as Michigan State's head coach, LSU's or in his early years at Alabama. He picks his spots more. But he's still Saban. And it does not matter if he is coming off a national title, or if he has gone two years without one. That's the case now, and he has never gone more than two years without one.
Plus, Saban has got to be retiring within the next three or four years, one would think. So, you know he's going to push like he's 51 for one more title before he exits. More pressure, candidates. Oh, and you may be the last two coordinators Saban ever hires. Think about that.
The Nick Saban Schedule
After Saban won his first national championship in the 2003 season at LSU, he hosted a party at his sprawling home 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-sized back porch that overlooked a pond. We were not allowed in the main house.
There stood future college head coaches Jimbo Fisher, Will Muschamp, Derek Dooley and Kirby Smart.
"So, I guess you guys going to get a little time off now," I said.
There was a long pause. Then Candi Fisher said, "Hell, no."
And everyone started laughing.
"We have to be at work Monday," Jimbo Fisher said. "But we do get a couple weeks off."
And the occasional night.
After Saban went to the Miami Dolphins following the 2004 season, Fisher stayed 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 that when Saban was in town.
Not much has changed, but the work does have its long and short term rewards. If you can take the tour and get Saban-ized for a year or two ... and avoid PTSD (Post Traumatic Saban Disorder).