Nick Saban replacements: Ranking Alabama’s best coaching candidates, from Dabo Swinney to Dan Lanning

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Alabama coach Nick Saban is retiring after 17 seasons – leaving arguably the largest void in college football coaching history. 

ESPN’s Chris Low first reported the news. Saban compiled a 201-29 record at Alabama. He won six of his seven national championships with the Crimson Tide; with the other coming with LSU in 2003. Saban dominated the BCS and College Football Playoff eras, and the 72-year-old coach is widely considered the greatest coach in college football history. 

Saban closes his coaching career with a 292-71-1 record. So, who will take on the monumental task of replacing Nick Saban? A look at the best candidates for the job, which includes several former assistants. 

MORE: Composite ‘Way-Too-Early’ Top 25 for 2024 season

Alabama coaching candidates to replace Nick Saban 

Dan Lanning, Oregon coach 

Action Network’s Brett McMurphy reports Lanning will be a top target for Alabama in this coaching search. Lanning, 37, is the youngest candidate on this list. He’s compiled a 22-5 record the last two seasons at Oregon, and he served as a GA under Saban in 2015. Lanning also had a stint at Georgia from 2018-21 as an outside linebackers coach and defensive coordinator. Is two years enough experience? Lanning has a 7-5 record against ranked teams with the Ducks. Lanning’s style could be a hit in Tuscaloosa, and the Ducks compiled the No. 8 recruiting class in 2023 and No. 5 recruiting class in 2024. He could be the right fit for life after Saban.

Dabo Swinney, Clemson coach 

Swinney, 54, is a former Alabama walk-on who played receiver on the 1992 national championship team, and he has long been considered the favorite to replace Saban. Swinney has a 170-43 record in 16 seasons with Clemson, and he won two national championships by beating Saban head-to-head in the College Football Playoff championship in 2016 and 2018. Swinney led the Tigers to 12 consecutive seasons with 10 or more victories before the team finished 9-4 in 2023. Swinney has been criticized for his lack of usage of the transfer portal, and the recruiting game takes on a little more importance in the SEC. Still, Swinney would be a fit with a return to his alma mater, and he has won with continuity at Clemson. Alabama could use that, especially with its offensive and defensive coordinator spots. Swinney might be at the point where a fresh start in his career is needed, and there is no place like home. 

Steve Sarkisian, Texas coach 

Sarkisian is 25-14 the last three seasons at Texas – a job he took after serving as Alabama’s offensive coordinator from 2019-20. The Longhorns beat the Crimson Tide 34-24 in 2023, and Sarkisian is a proven offensive mind who has crushed it on the recruiting trail with three straight top-five recruiting classes. Texas has emerged as a national championship contender as a result, and Sarkisian has shown a knack for working the transfer portal to bring in impact players. Sarkisian has a 71-49 record as a head coach, and at 49 years old he would be a good fit to continue what Saban has built. The 2020 Alabama national championship team averaged 48.5 points per game with Sarkisian as offensive coordinator. Would Sarkisian leaving Texas for Alabama ahead of the Longhorns move to the SEC? That’s a juicy plot-line. Remember, he was a USC assistant, went to Washington as head coach, then returned to USC as head coach. Will he follow the same pattern?

Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss coach 

The “Return of the Portal King” would be quite the headline for the 48-year-old coach. Kiffin – who was the offensive coordinator at Alabama from 2014-16 – was unceremoniously let go ahead of the Crimson Tide’s CFP championship game before taking the job at FAU. He was 26-13 with the Owls before taking the Ole Miss job, where he is 34-15. The Rebels have emerged as an SEC West contender with a good mix of recruiting and transfer portal work, but Kiffin has still struggled in those season-defining games. Ole Miss is 2-6 against top-10 teams under Kiffin, and that kind of track gets more scrutiny at a place like Alabama. Kiffin has a good thing going at Ole Miss, with far less expectations. 

Mike Norvell, Florida State

Norvell, 42, would be the fringe candidate. He’s produced winners at two schools in Memphis – where 38-15; and Florida State, where he is 31-17 and led Florida State to a 13-0 record this season. The Seminoles built a roster that beat LSU and Florida the last two seasons. Norvell has worked his way up the coaching ladder, and the Seminoles ranked in the top 25 in scoring offense and scoring defense the last two seasons. That balance – and the success in recruiting and the transfer portal – makes Norvell a viable candidate. He’s just a little further down the list then the other four names mentioned here. 

Will Nick Saban join ESPN’s ‘College GameDay?’ 

Front Office Sports reports Saban could be a potential successor for Lee Corso on ESPN’s “College GameDay.” Saban has been a regular on CFP championship coverage when the Crimson Tide are not playing for the national championship. 

Saban was one of the most-influential voices in the sport, who made his feelings clear on matters such as the College Football Playoff expansion, NIL and the transfer portal. Would he be a voice that resonates on the College Football Playoff committee? That could be another avenue in the future.

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