At a time when teams are seeking out unique coaching candidates, and with a quarter of the league pursuing a new head coach with a limited pool of NFL candidates available, numerous NFL teams are interested in speaking to Alabama coach Nick Saban and several of his former assistants, league sources said.
With Saban completing another historic season at Alabama, multiple teams conducting head-coaching searches want to speak to him this week, knowing full well it may be close to impossible to land him. The allure of Saban and his accomplished assistants is significant at a time when many candidates for jobs lack the proven ability to assemble a staff and manage a game and personalities the way he has. In particular, sources said that Tampa Bay's ownership – still hopeful of making a splash – would be interested in speaking to Georgia coach Kirby Smart, a former Saban assistant.
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It has not been uncommon in recent years for NFL owners to get word to Saban about their interest in hiring him, and the former Dolphins head coach would have myriad opportunities again this winter if he opted to explore them, sources said. At age 68, Saban may not be open to such a challenge anymore, but with his exploits at Alabama already reaching unprecedented levels, it's a question several teams believe is worth asking.
NFL teams have also reached out to Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald (at least three teams, sources said, and not just the Packers), Iowa State's Matt Cambell (and not just the Jets) and Baylor's Matt Rhule. With NFL teams increasingly adopting (or outright stealing) college concepts and the trends on offense, in particular dovetailing, the pool of college candidates continues to resonate deeply with the NFL teams (hence the interest in recently-fired Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, despite him already agreeing to be USC offensive coordinator).
Conversations with over a half dozen NFL general managers, including several currently conducting head-coaching searches, revealed a strong sense that at least one college coach will end up landing an NFL job in the coming weeks. The biggest detriment thus far has actually been the unwillingness of many of them to leave their current situations.
Saban is the dean of them all at this point, and he has spawned a tree of former assistants now running their own college programs, so the interest in them should come as no surprise.