Nick Saban's coaching tree has varying levels of success
It seems Will Muschamp’s days as head coach of the Florida Gators are numbered in the wake of an embarrassing 42-13 loss to Missouri on Homecoming night in Gainesville.
Muschamp is in his fourth season as Florida’s head coach after serving as the Texas Longhorns’ defensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting for three years from 2008-2010. But before all of that, he spent five years as Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator at LSU and with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, rising through the coaching ranks as Saban emerged as one of the premier head coaches in the country.
Saban is still considered one of the best coaches in the nation today, while Muschamp’s first head coaching gig is about to come to a disappointing end.
This got us thinking — how does Muschamp compare to the rest of the coaches on Saban’s coaching tree? Is he the greatest disappointment? Has anyone from Saban’s coaching history achieved the level of success Saban has over the years?
Saturday Down South pulled a few of the more prominent names from Saban’s coaching tree to see who panned out, who fell short and where Muschamp fits in with those other big-name coaches.
THE WILDLY SUCCESSFUL
Jimbo Fisher: Fisher, Florida State’s current head coach, became the first Saban disciple to win a national championship as a head coach when he accomplished the feat with FSU last year. He served as Saban’s offensive coordinator during his days as head coach at LSU in the early 2000’s, and took on the difficult task of replacing the legendary Bobby Bowden as Florida State’s head man in 2010. Fisher won a national championship in his fourth year on the job, and his team is now in the midst of a 23-game winning streak dating back to the 2012 season. He’s 52-10 as a head coach, and 33-2 since the start of 2012. Fisher is not the only former Saban assistant to achieve success as a head coach, but he’s achieved the most success of anyone tied to Saban during their careers.
Mark Dantonio: Dantonio served as a defensive assistant at Michigan State when Saban led the Spartans in the late 1990’s, and in 2007 Dantonio’s career came full-circle when he took on the head coaching duties at MSU. He has been the head coach at Michigan State ever since, and in his eight years on the job he’s won exactly 70 of 100 games, including two Big 10 championships and the 2013 Rose Bowl. That 2013 team finished 13-1, and Dantonio’s Spartans finished with 11 wins twice (in 2010 and 2011). However, his greatest achievement as a head coach has been leading the Spartans past the University of Michigan as the state’s premier football program this decade. The Wolverines have as much tradition as any program in America, yet Dantonio’s success on the field has been hard to ignore, resulting in a major power swing from Ann Arbor to East Lansing.
THE MODESTLY SUCCESSFUL
Jim McElwain: McElwain is not a coach most casual fans are familiar with, but he’s quietly put together one of the finest careers of any of Saban’s former assistants. He worked as Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama from 2008-2011, and has served as the head coach at Colorado State since 2012. His Rams won eight games a year ago, including last year’s New Mexico Bowl, and they are currently 6-1 in 2014. It’s only a matter of time until McElwain gets a chance to coach on a bigger stage, but he’s already proven himself to be one of the most successful head coaches on Saban’s coaching tree.
THE UNUSUAL JOURNEY
Josh McDaniels: McDaniels is only 38 years old, but his coaching career has already had plenty of ups and downs along the way. He served as a graduate assistant under Saban at Michigan State in the late ’90’s, and has worked in the NFL ever since. McDaniels worked his way up through the New England Patriots organization, eventually becoming the Pats’ offensive coordinator from 2006-2008. He led the 2007 Patriots to a 16-0 regular season, and his offense broke a number of NFL records. As a result, he was hired as the head coach of the Denver Broncos in 2009, but won just 11 of 28 games before he was fired midway through his second season on the job. He returned to New England as an offensive assistant, and is currently serving as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator once again. He’s led legendary offenses, and has worked with legendary quarterback Tom Brady for more than half of Brady’s career. However, he’s also the coach who selected Tim Tebow in the first round of the NFL Draft, and he was so underwhelming as a head coach he wasn’t even able to finish his second full season on the job. It’s been a peculiar journey for McDaniels, making it hard to believe he’s not even 40 years old.
THE SLIGHTLY DISAPPOINTING
Pat Shurmur: Shurmur is a former Saban assistant at Michigan State currently serving as the offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles. After more than 10 years as an assistant in college and the NFL, Shurmur finally got his first head coaching job with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns in 2011, but lasted just two years while posting a 9-23 record. His tenure in Cleveland was underwhelming, but so has every other Browns head coach this century (just one winning season since 2003), begging the question — was it Shurmur or was it Cleveland? He continues to work as a successful NFL coordinator, but his failed experiment with the Browns slots him behind a handful of other former Saban assistants.
Will Muschamp: It’s safe to say Muschamp’s first head coaching job has been a total bust, and there’s little he can do between now and the end of the season to change that. He was lauded as one of the most promising future coaches in America during his days as Saban’s D.C. and as the coach-in-waiting at Texas, but Muschamp never delivered on that promise at Florida. Upon replacing Urban Meyer as UF’s head coach, Muschamp led the Gators to a mediocre 7-6 record in 2011, but redeemed himself with a brilliant 11-win campaign in 2012. That success was merely a flash in the pan, as the Gators have only won 7 of 18 games since the 2012 season. Last year, Florida finished 4-8, including a loss to Georgia Southern, marking Florida’s first losing season since 1979. Last week’s loss to Missouri marked the second time Muschamp’s Gators lost to a team with fewer than 120 yards of total offense; no other head coach has lost under those circumstances even once since 2000. The Gators are at their lowest point in decades, thanks in large part to Muschamp’s failures following the successful Meyer era in Gainesville. He’ll be a fantastic coordinator as soon as next year, but as far as head coaches go he’s a wart on Saban’s coaching tree.
Derek Dooley: Dooley worked as an assistant coach under Saban at LSU and with the Dolphins in the early 2000’s, and many thought he’d have a bright future as a head coach following in the footsteps of Saban and of his father, legendary coach Vince Dooley. However, Dooley never lived up to that promise. He served as the head coach at Louisiana Tech for three years, and amassed just one winning season while posting an overall record of 17-20. In 2010 he was hired to coach the University of Tennessee in the wake of Lane Kiffin’s sudden departure, but rather than turn the program around he ran it further into the ground. Dooley was 32-41 as coach of the Vols, and never won more than six games in any of his three seasons in Knoxville. He’s currently serving as an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys, and he’ll continue to make a fine assistant at either the collegiate or professional levels, but as a head coach he’s one of the bigger disappointments in Saban’s history.