May 28, 2024

After Nick Saban’s retirement announcement on Wednesday and a brief pause in retrospectives, attention shifted to the unknown. For the first time in 17 years, Alabama fans are left wondering who will be leading the team from the sidelines as they seek a new head coach.

Players at the University of Alabama were informed that a replacement would be sought “within 72 hours.” By nightfall, conflicting reports emerged regarding the frontrunner, Dan Lanning, with some sources claiming he was in Tuscaloosa (contradicted by Sports Illustrated). Following the typical trend in college football fandom, online discussions quickly focused on candidates, considering factors such as their age, connections to Saban’s coaching tree, and the extent of their buyout clauses.

As Alabama embarks on its version of the modern-day head coaching carousel, it’s essential to explore potential options, including their respective buyout figures and any statements they have made about leaving their current programs.

Dan Lanning

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Dan Lanning has gained popularity as a potential candidate, especially after achieving success with the Oregon Ducks, where he has been for two years. Even Nick Saban jokingly acknowledged Lanning’s impact, mentioning that Georgia head coach Kirby Smart beat him to hiring Lanning by two days in 2018. Lanning had previously served as a graduate assistant for Saban in 2015 for one season.

Despite the tempting opportunity, the 37-year-old Lanning has expressed a strong commitment to Oregon. In an interview with Oregon Live on December 30, just before last month’s Fiesta Bowl, he discussed the prospect of leaving. Lanning emphasized the positive aspects of working with the administration, particularly praising athletic director Rob Mullens and highlighting the alignment within the University. He pointed out the commitment to innovation, noting that Oregon is willing to stay on the cutting edge of changes in college football. Lanning mentioned feeling a sense of unfinished business at Oregon and expressed a desire to accomplish more with the program. Additionally, he underscored the importance of stability for his family, citing the fatigue of moving and the desire to provide a consistent environment for his wife and kids. Overall, Lanning conveyed a deep affection for Oregon, describing it as everything he and his family had hoped for, with excellent coaching opportunities, great players, and a supportive community.

Steve Sarkisian

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Steve Sarkisian, who has been with Texas for three years, has a buyout of $5 million in 2024. He is coming off a notable career year, marked by handing Nick Saban his worst loss in the history of Bryant-Denny Stadium and reaching the College Football Playoff semifinal. Sarkisian’s life has seen significant changes, both personally and professionally, during his time as an analyst under Saban in 2016 and later as the offensive coordinator from 2019 to 2020. The question arises whether he would consider leaving one emerging SEC powerhouse for another that is already established.

After a close loss to Washington, University of Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte stated to The Austin American-Statesman that discussions were underway to extend Sarkisian’s contract. Despite earning $5.9 million in 2024, Sarkisian’s future with Texas appears to be a topic of ongoing negotiation and consideration.

Kalen DeBoer

With a tenure of two years at Washington and a 2024 buyout of $12 million, the question arises whether someone who was at Fresno State just three years ago, like coach DeBoer, could step into the shoes of Nick Saban. DeBoer’s recent success, rivaled perhaps only by Smart, makes a compelling case for his candidacy. Demonstrating championship-level coaching at every stop in his career, DeBoer, much like Sarkisian, is fresh off a College Football Playoff appearance.

Addressing contract extension talks, DeBoer expressed his focus on recruiting and game-planning in the current moment. He noted that while discussions like these often take place before or after the season or during the offseason, the team is currently immersed in the present. This highlights the complexity of such decisions amid ongoing responsibilities and priorities during the season.

Dabo Swinney

Dabo Swinney, who has been with Clemson for 16 years and has a 2024 buyout of $7.5 million, emerges as a once-obvious candidate for the Alabama head coaching position. Swinney brings a strong pedigree and connections to Alabama, dating back to his time as a walk-on in 1989 and his upbringing in Pelham. As a two-time national champion, he has showcased the ability to recruit elite talent, even from his home state, as exemplified by securing commitments from players like former five-star recruit Peter Woods, who chose Clemson over Alabama.

The question, however, revolves around whether the 54-year-old Swinney is willing to uproot a legacy that has seen a shift in recent years due to Clemson’s challenges. It’s noteworthy that in his most recent contract extension in 2022, Swinney retained a clause indicating that his buyout would be higher if he were to leave for the University of Alabama. Addressing speculation about a potential return to Alabama, Swinney emphasized his love for the school where he spent 13 years but also expressed contentment with his current position at Clemson. In a 2019 interview with ESPN’s David Hale, he stated, “I love where I am, love what I do,” suggesting a strong commitment to his role at Clemson.

Mike Norvell

With a tenure of four years at Florida State and a 2024 buyout of $4 million, Mike Norvell emerges as a candidate with an intriguing narrative. The hypothetical scenario is presented where, if not for Jordan Travis’ injury, FSU might have prevented Saban and Alabama from reaching the playoffs. The question arises whether, in that alternate universe, Saban would have decided to retire. While speculative, the narrative would be compelling if Norvell, the coach associated with the team that played a role in keeping Saban out of the last four-team College Football Playoff, were to join Alabama.

Norvell is noted as a high-caliber recruiter who achieved significant on-field success in the previous fall. Despite signing an extension in 2023, his age of 42 positions him as the type of long-term candidate that UA Athletic Director Greg Byrne has sought for other coaching positions within the university, such as men’s basketball and baseball. This suggests that Norvell could align with the vision of establishing stability and sustained success at the University of Alabama.

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