Top Candidates to Replace Nick Saban

Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban walks the field against LSU at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, LA on Saturday, Nov 5, 2022.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban informed his team on Wednesday he is officially retiring.

In doing so, Saban has ushered in the most consequential, important question of modern college football: Who will replace him?

Among the potential bearers of that enormous responsibility are names familiar to the conversation, as well as new names that are only now on our radar.

iIt’s an understatement to say this is by far the most significant decision Greg Byrne will make during his time as the University of Alabama’s Athletic Director.

Here are the names currently in the mix to replace the irreplaceable: 

Dan Lanning (Oregon)

Lanning’s first stop in the SEC came under Nick Saban in 2015 as a grad assistant. Saban himself has even said he was days away from re-hiring Lanning in 2018 from Memphis, but Kirby Smart beat him to it. He served as Georgia’s co-defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach for four years before being hired at Oregon where he has led the Ducks to back-to-back double digit win seasons.

He has also brought in back-to-back top ten recruiting classes to Eugene. Lanning would be an ideal candidate.

Lane Kiffin (Ole Miss)

This one has been thrown around for years it feels like. Kiffin has long credited Saban with revitalizing his career after he was fired by USC, and he was instrumental in the modernizing of the Tide’s offense. If given the opportunity, Kiffin would probably jump at the chance to follow in Saban’s footsteps.

Dabo Swinney (Clemson)

Swinney is someone who in terms of what fans want at least, has cooled down over the last couple of years. If it were five years ago, most wanted, and assumed, Dabo to be the replacement for Saban. But a couple of rough seasons for Clemson combined with Swinney’s lack of ability to adapt to the new age of college football are concerns.

Still, Swinney is an Alabama native and an alum who won a championship at Alabama, so his name will be thrown around. Ultimately, it feels unlikely he lands the job.

Mike Norvell (Florida State)

Norvell has completely revitalized the Seminoles’ program after some very dark days, with back-to-back double digit win seasons the last two years and some of the best recruiting classes in the nation every year he has been there. He also has the smallest buyout of the candidates mentioned.

Each candidate needs to check two boxes: can win games and can recruit. Norvell does just that.

Kalen DeBoer (Washington)

Kalen DeBoer has simply not lost many football games. His national championship loss to Michigan marked only the 12th of his college head coaching career going back to his days at Sioux Falls. He reshaped a downtrodden Washington program in his first year and went undefeated in his second, bringing the Huskies to the brink of glory. Ultimately, this one feels unlikely due to the fact that he has only been the head coach of a major program for two years, but DeBoer knows how to win.

Honorable Mention: Kirby Smart (Georgia)

This one is probably a pipe dream. Smart is a Georgia alum and has his dream job leading the Bulldogs. He’s already won two national championships. He doesn’t need to make a move like this. But is it possible that the desire to follow in Saban’s footsteps and return to Tuscaloosa where he spent so many years is in the back of his mind? Likely not, but it’s fun to dream.