Two college football coaches might face more scrutiny than anyone else in college football in 2023.
And Nick Saban hasn’t hired them yet.
Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien accepted the same position with the New England Patriots on Tuesday. Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Pete Golding took the same position with Ole Miss on Jan. 13. That means Saban will enter his 17th season with two new coordinators for the first time since the 2019 season. This will be the fourth time in his run at Alabama that he has had to replace both coordinators and the third time in the last six years. In 2018 he won the national title with first-time coordinators Mike Locksley and Tosh Lupoi.
The pressure point is obvious. The Crimson Tide have not gone more than three seasons without winning a national championship since Saban took over in 2007. Georgia – led by former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart – has won back-to-back national championships.
Where will Saban turn for those coordinators? A look at the offensive and defensive coordinator positions under Saban, and some logical replacements for each coaching position.
Alabama offensive coordinators under Saban
O’Brien’s departure means Alabama will have a ninth offensive coordinator under Saban – a list that includes Major Applewhite (2007), Jim McElwain (2008-11), Doug Nussmeier (2012-13), Lane Kiffin (2014-16), Brian Daboll (2017), Mike Lockley (2018), Steve Sarkisian (2019-20) and Bill O’Brien (2021-22).
Of those coordinators, McElwain is the only one who won multiple national championships with Saban in (2009, 2011). Nussmeier (2012), Kiffin (2015), Daboll (2017) and Sarkisian (2020) also won national titles – which is the standard of success for the Crimson Tide.
Did Alabama’s offense drop-off with Bill O’Brien?
Talk about an impossible standard: Alabama averaged 48.5 points per game in 2020 under Sarkisian with an offense that featured three Heisman Trophy candidates in DeVonta Smith, Mac Jones and Najee Harris.
O’Brien did inherit Bryce Young – who won the Heisman Trophy in 2021. The Crimson Tide averaged 39.9 points per game in 2020 and 41.1 ppg. in 2021. O’Brien’s return to the NFL, and the fact it’s back to New England with Bill Belichick – one of Saban’s mentors – is not a surprise.
Who will be Alabama’s next offensive coordinator?
Who can develop the next quarterback? That is the question for whoever takes this job. Young is gone, and there is a looming quarterback battle between Jalen Milroe, Ty Simpson and Eli Holstein. There is not an internal candidate that pops, and here are three popular names to keep an eye on.
Jeff Lebby, Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator, was Ole Miss’ offensive coordinator from 2020-21. Lebby, however, is an Oklahoma grad and just arrived in Norman. Why would he leave now? Jason Garrett was rumored to be in the Stanford coaching search, and this would be an interesting career change. Garrett, however, has no college coaching experience.
So the question is simple: Will Alabama go after Kliff Kingsbury, who was fired by the Arizona Cardinals this season? Kingsbury was the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M before taking the job at Texas Tech. Saban has been renowned for reviving coaching careers. Kingsbury would simply be the next one.
Alabama’s defensive coordinators under Saban
Kevin Steele was Saban’s first defensive coordinator in 2007. Smart took over from there, and he won four national championships with Saban from 2008-15 before taking the Georgia job.
From there, Jeremy Pruitt (2016-17) won one national title with Saban. Tosh Lupoi and Pete Golding were co-defensive coordinators in 2018 before Golding took the full-time job through last season. Golding was the defensive coordinator when Alabama won the national championship in 2020.
Did Alabama’s defense drop-off with Pete Golding?
The Crimson Tide had a top–10 scoring defense at 18.2 points per game, but the two hiccups were in a 52-49 loss to Tennessee and a 32-31 loss to LSU in 2022. In those losses, Alabama allowed an average of 467 total yards, and a series of pass interference calls in both games were costly.
Golding is joining Kiffin at Ole Miss, a bit of a surprise move considering its within the SEC West. That will add to the storylines when the Rebels visit Bryant-Denny Stadium on Sept. 23.
Who will be Alabama’s next defensive coordinator?
AL.com listed several candidates for the job on Jan. 13, and it likely comes down to four possible candidates.
Pruitt is the wild card. He is the best candidate, but he also could be subject to a show-cause penalty by the NCAA for his rule in a recruiting scandal during his time at Tennessee.
Glenn Schumann, Georgia’s co-defensive coordinator, is a logical-candidate. He played at Alabama and was an assistant under Saban from 2008-14. He’s been with Smart with the Bulldogs since 2018.
Todd Grantham, who was a defensive analyst with Alabama last season, had been a defensive coordinator at Georgia, Louisville, Mississippi State and Florida.
Jim Leonhard is another popular name. He was Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator from 2017-22 and would do well with the talent available at Alabama.
How much pressure do those coordinators face?
This is the toughest coordinator job in college football on both sides, and the pressure to break Georgia’s two-year national championship run is on Saban.
Saban turns 72 this season, and there remains enough talent on the roster – not to mention the top-ranked recruiting class for 2024 – on the way. It’s always win-it-all-now time at Alabama, however, and the microscope is always on those coordinators when the Crimson Tide loses.
Alabama coordinators under Nick Saban (2007-present)
A look at every offensive and defensive coordinator under Saban at Alabama:
|2007||Major Applewhite||Kevin Steele|
|2008||Jim McElwain||Kirby Smart|
|2009||Jim McElwain||Kirby Smart|
|2010||Jim McElwain||Kirby Smart|
|2011||Jim McElwain||Kirby Smart|
|2012||Doug Nussmeier||Kirby Smart|
|2013||Doug Nussmeier||Kirby Smart|
|2014||Lane Kiffin||Kirby Smart|
|2015||Lane Kiffin||Kirby Smart|
|2016||Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian||Jeremy Pruitt|
|2017||Brian Daboll||Jeremy Pruitt|
|2018||Mike Locksley||Tosh Lupoi|
|2019||Steve Sarkisian||Pete Golding|
|2020||Steve Sarkisian||Pete Golding|
|2021||Bill O’Brien||Pete Golding|
|2022||Bill O’Brien||Pete Golding|