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The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

A deep dive into the prestigious coaching tree of Nick Saban 

Courtesy of UA Athletics
Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban and Kirby Smart shake hands after game against Georgia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Saturday, Dec 2, 2023.

Nick Saban’s time as head football coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide can be defined by one word: winning. With six national championships, nine SEC titles, and more NFL first-round draft picks than losses at Alabama, it’s safe to say that Saban knows a thing or two about winning. It’s no secret Saban’s winning ways have a carefully crafted formula, which is why several of his former assistants now hold some of the biggest jobs in football.  

Now that Saban has hung up the whistle, it’s time to do a deep dive into his coaching tree and how these coaches have made an impact on football by continuing the Saban standard.  

Kirby Smart (Georgia HC, former Alabama DC) 

With Saban announcing his retirement, Kirby Smart is now the gold standard for coaching in college football. The former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator has replicated Saban’s program and turned the Georgia Bulldogs into a yearly powerhouse.  

Smart was Alabama’s defensive coordinator from 2007-2015 when he was a part of four national championship teams. The Bulldogs stole him away from Saban in 2016, naming him the program’s head coach. Smart went on to win back-to-back national championships in 2021 and 2022.  

The two coaches have a great deal of respect for one another, which Smart confirmed after Saban announced his retirement. 

“There’s a lot of respect both ways between he and I,” Smart said via UGA Wire. “I make it a point to tell him how much I appreciate what he’s done for the game and other coaches.”  

Lane Kiffin (Ole Miss HC, former Alabama OC) 

After a failed tenure at Southern California, Lane Kiffin was at an all-time low — that is, until he received a phone call from Saban asking him to join his staff at Alabama.  

Kiffin became the offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide in 2014, and under Saban’s guidance, he helped lead Alabama to a national championship in 2015. After a successful three-year run in Tuscaloosa, Kiffin returned to his role as a head coach, this time with the Florida Atlantic Owls from 2017-2019. Kiffin then returned to college football’s biggest stage in the SEC to become the head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels in 2020.  

Since taking over at Ole Miss, Kiffin has completely turned the program around, and there’s been talk of the Rebels as dark horses for the SEC title in 2024. Some even linked Kiffin to the Alabama head coaching vacancy after Saban retired, but he ultimately stayed put at Ole Miss. The appreciation Kiffin has for Saban and Alabama, though, is obvious. Kiffin took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to honor Saban as well as Pete Carroll, who stepped down as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks less than 24 hours before. 

“So honored and blessed to have learned from them and won national championships with both,” Kiffin said in a post. “Thanks for taking a chance on me and being amazing mentor’s to me.”  

Steve Sarkisian (Texas HC, former Alabama OC) 

Steve Sarkisian is widely considered one of the brightest offensive minds in the world of college football, but this wasn’t always the case. Sarkisian began his head coaching career at Washington in 2009. His Huskies finished 5-7 that year, a vast improvement from the team’s winless season the year before.  

After a few more mediocre seasons, Sarkisian headed to Southern California to become its head coach after Kiffin was fired. His time there was short after off-the-field issues resulted in him being fired. With nowhere to go, the future looked rocky for Sarkisian.  

Enter Nick Saban.  

The future Hall of Fame coach brought Sarkisian in to be an analyst in 2016, resulting in him becoming the interim offensive coordinator later that year. After a brief stint as the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, Sarkisian became the full-time offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide in 2019.  

Sarkisian led one of the nation’s best offensive units to Alabama’s 18th national championship in 2020. At this point, his coaching services were widely sought after, leading him to sign with the Texas Longhorns to become their head coach in 2021. The hire turned out to be a home run for the people in Austin as Sarkisian led the Longhorns to the College Football Playoff in 2024.  

After the news of Saban’s retirement, Sarkisian thanked his mentor and former Southern California head coach Carroll on social media. 

“The 2 GOAT’S!” Sarkisian posted on X. “Would not be where I am today without these two men as mentors! Thank you for everything!” 

Some other notable branches of the Saban coaching tree include former Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher, former South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp, former Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt, Oregon head coach Dan Lanning, and former Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker.  

Saban may have retired, but his legacy will continue to live on through the dozens of former assistants carrying out his standard across the country.  

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