NCAA Football: Portland St. at Oregon

Nick Saban has retired as Alabama coach after 17 seasons leading the Crimson Tide program, leaving some legendary shoes to fill in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Saban went 292-71-1 overall as a head football coach throughout his career including an absurd 201-29 at Alabama with six national championships. The search for his replacement now begins, and a successor is expected to be named within the coming days, according to 247Sports

Oregon coach Dan Lanning was immediately pointed toward as the frontrunner to replace Saban, though the Ducks boss ultimately shot down any interest and announced his intentions to remain at Eugene, Oregon, within 24 hours of Saban stepping away. Texas coach and former Alabama assistant Steve Sarkisian was another popular name making the rounds, but on Friday, he was removed from the running after the Longhorns announced he will be staying in Austin likely under a new contract.

Perhaps the best job in college football, the Alabama coaching gig presents a fascinating opportunity. Tuscaloosa been home to some of the most successful coaches in the sport's history, but it also presents a pressure cooker for whomever earns the right to replace Saban. In the 15 years between Gene Stallings' lone national championship in 1992 and Saban's arrival in 2007, Alabama had almost as many losing seasons (four) as 10-win seasons (five). 

Replacing a legendary coach is one of the toughest tasks in football. When Paul "Bear" Bryant retired in 1982, New York Giants coach Ray Perkins took over the Crimson Tide program. Two years later, Alabama posted its first losing season in 27 years. When Mack Brown retired at Texas, Charlie Strong went 16-21 over the next three seasons. Now we get the chance to see whether Saban's successor can live up to the lofty expectations of leading the Alabama football program as arguably the greatest coach to ever do it rides off into the sunset. 

Let's have a look at potential candidates to step into those shoes. 

Alabama coaching candidates

Kalen DeBoer, Washington coach: Unlike almost every other candidate on this list, DeBoer does not have ties to either the SEC or Nick Saban. But after leading Washington to a 25-3 record across his first two seasons and College Football Playoff National Championship appearance, DeBoer ranks as a potential outside-the-box candidate for athletic director Greg Byrne. DeBoer worked his way up the small college ranks, including winning three national championships at NAIA Sioux Falls, before taking over at Fresno State and eventually landing with the Huskies. Including all levels, DeBoer has a career record of 104-12. That's hard to ignore. 

Dabo Swinney, Clemson coach: For years, Swinney was seen as the obvious replacement for Saban at Alabama. He is one of just four coaches to win multiple BCS or College Football Playoff national championships, joining Saban, Kirby Smart and Urban Meyer, and did it at a smaller program after building Clemson into a national power. However, the timing for him could not be worse as Clemson has descended since those title-winning years. The Tigers failed to win 10 games for the first time since 2010 this past season, and Swinney has grown a reputation for failing to embrace modern trends in college football, including NIL and the transfer portal. Still, Swinney is a proven program builder who could potentially maintain what Saban has built. 

Mike Vrabel, former Tennessee Titans coach: Vrabel was fired by the Titans on Wednesday but should have plenty of opportunities in the NFL if he chooses. Still, Alabama would be smart to chase one of the most respected coaches in the game. Vrabel played and coached at Ohio State, including serving as defensive line coach under Meyer on the 2012 undefeated team. He was regarded as an excellent recruiter and posted four consecutive winning seasons to start his career with the Titans. 

Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss coach: No coach has more openly flirted with the Alabama job than Saban's former offensive coordinator. Kiffin landed at Alabama in 2014 and helped transition the Crimson Tide to a modern spread offense. He has done a solid job at Ole Miss, winning 29 games in three seasons with a pair of New Year's Six appearances and appears to have his best team yet waiting in 2024. At the same time, Kiffin's only conference or division championships came at FAU. He has a 3-21 record against power teams that won at least nine regular-season games in his career, though he improved to 2-2 in 2023. Most of all, Alabama will have to evaluate whether Kiffin's antics will fly as the boss in Tuscaloosa.

Tommy Rees, Alabama offensive coordinator: Rees was the only in-house candidate to receive and interview after his first season leading the Crimson Tide offense. Many were critical of his performance as Alabama started off slow with issues on the offensive side of the ball being a major contributing factor, but he was praised for Jalen Milroe's development down the stretch as the Tide ultimately earned a CFP berth. 

Mike Locksley, Maryland coach: Locksley, a former Alabama assistant, has received support from former Tide players and even one mega-donor tied to the school, according to FootballScoop. He spent three seasons as an assistant under Saban, serving as offensive coordinator in 2017-18. Locksley has gone 25-33 over five seasons with the Terrapins. 

Dan Quinn, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator: Quinn has a lengthy, successful career in the NFL, including leading the Atlanta Falcons to a Super Bowl appearance. Now he has built the Cowboys' defense into one of the top units in the league. Quinn was honored as assistant coach of the year in 2021. He doesn't have much collegiate experience, only serving as Florida's defensive coordinator for two years under Will Muschamp. Another complication: Quinn might not be available for several weeks as the Cowboys enter the postseason.