College football creates a special kind of camaraderie, even between fans of varying teams. Fans love to sit around the tailgate and discuss every topic under the sun related to the game we all enjoy.
In the Tailgate Talk series, we discuss random college football topics ranging from hypothetical situations to actual events within the game. Read the opinions of SDS contributors and chime in yourself in the comments below.
Who should take over at Alabama when Nick Saban retires?
Jon Cooper (@JonSDS): Dabo Swinney
After Nick Saban hangs ’em up, Alabama will call Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. And Dabo won’t turn it down. Before you start the outpouring of screaming and yelling, he’d be an excellent fit at Alabama. He can recruit as well or better than anyone in college football, and as long as he’d hire good offensive and defensive coordinators, he could win at Alabama. Most folks will Kirby Smart, and I’m fine with that. However, I’m going wildcard and picking Dabo Swinney.
Brad Crawford (@BCrawfordSDS): Pete Carroll
Pete Carroll, a championship-winning coach at every level with over four decades of experience. Not only would he bring a sexy offense to Tuscaloosa, but the Crimson Tide wouldn’t miss a beat on the recruiting trail as one of the nation’s elites annually. He’s an Xs and Os extraordinaire and has the reputation of being a player’s coach. At the collegiate level, Carroll put 53 players in the NFL including 14 first-round picks. He has coached three Heisman Trophy winners and at one point, won 34 consecutive games during his stint at USC. Carroll would certainly be under the NCAA’s microscope at Alabama, but if the Crimson Tide want to keep winning (notably championships), he’s the perfect fit.
Brett Weisband (@BWeisbandSDS): Lane Kiffin
This might not be a popular pick, and it’s obviously dependent on a handful of other factors, but Kiffin would be a fantastic pick to carry Alabama into its next era if Saban decides to hang up the headset in, say, 2018.
Kiffin would have to remain with the program that long. It’s widely assumed that he’s at Alabama to rehab his image after rough exits at his first three head coaching jobs. Kiffin drew interest from the San Francisco 49ers this offseason, and some level of interest from the college and pro ranks is going to be present every off season for Kiffin. While he’s not among the highest paid coordinators in the country, there aren’t many better opportunities for an assistant than running the offense for a national title contender.
He’d also provide continuity into the next phase of Alabama football. If Kiffin spends three or fours years on Saban’s staff before the man with the statue out front walks away, he’ll know the ins and outs of the Crimson Tide as well as anyone. He’s already a pro on the recruiting circuit, a major plus as Alabama will look to continue its run on top of the recruiting rankings without Saban, a master at bringing in high school talent.
The biggest question would be whether Kiffin has learned from his previous stints. Many would probably wonder if he’s been “humbled,” but the real question would be whether or not he’s learned the deal with the CEO aspects of running a college football program. Saban has a sprawling coaching tree with mixed results, and which side of that line Kiffin falls on will perhaps be the biggest factor.
Ethan Levine (@ELevineSDS): Kirby Smart
If Nick Saban were to walk away, I think Alabama would actually struggle to bring in an establish, premier head coach to replace him. A guy like Jim Harbaugh could step into Michigan’s job right away because he’s replacing a failed coach. But he’d never do the same at Alabama, because anything short of what Saban accomplished would make him look like a lesser coach. Thus, I think Alabama would have to go with one of its two big-name coordinators: either Lane Kiffin or Kirby Smart. I’d imagine Smart would have an edge, even though Kiffin has head coaching experience at the college and NFL levels. Smart has been waiting for the right opportunity to make the move to a head coaching position, and taking on the Alabama job would allow him to remain with the program, which he’s seemed to enjoy being a part of since arriving in Tuscaloosa. Smart knows the area, he knows the fan base and the boosters, he knows the recruiting territories and even if Saban left tomorrow he has already formed a relationship with many of Alabama’s top recruits in future classes. He’d keep Alabama’s defense ranked near the top of the nation in most categories and he’s familiar with the grind of an SEC West schedule. To me, Smart is not only the best choice, but also the most obvious.
Christopher Smith (@CSmithSDS): Kirby Smart
For years, Smart has been “waiting for the right job to come available.” Generally I’m not a fan of a big-time program like Alabama giving a job to an unproven coordinator or to someone who knows the program (think “Michigan Man”). For a long time, Alabama coaches needed some tie to Bear Bryant or the Tide. But it’s worked with Jimbo Fisher and Florida State. Smart has built equity with his loyalty, spending every year but one since 2004 working for Nick Saban. I don’t expect Saban to step down within the next two or three years. Whether Smart is still in Tuscaloosa or pulling a Jim McElwain at a less prestigious FBS school, Alabama should look his way. The author of so many filthy defenses will be in his early 40s and capable of holding the job for pretty much as long as he can.