Imagine for a moment that tomorrow morning you cranked up your computer and the headline on your favorite sports site screamed, “NICK SABAN TO LEAVE ALABAMA!”
Suddenly, the college football world would be turned upside down.
Overnight, confidence would become uncertainty and instantly every coach in the nation would be ripe for the picking.
The next storyline would be obvious, “WHO WILL REPLACE NICK SABAN AT ALABAMA?”
So, what names are on Alabama athletic director Bill Battle’s short list?
This is the emergency action plan in case Saban falls ill, leaves for the Dallas Cowboys, gets burned-out like Urban Meyer or—worst-case scenario—a scandal settles over Tuscaloosa.
Who is qualified to inherit the program built on the Saban system?
Here are five coaches Battle may have on speed dial just in case he suddenly has to replace the best coach in college football.
Saban’s defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is the likely heir apparent to the coaching throne at Alabama.
Smart has been with Saban since 2004 when he coached defensive backs at LSU.
After a single season as the running backs coach at Georgia in 2005, Smart reunited with Saban when he served as the safeties coach for the Miami Dolphins in 2006.
The two moved to Alabama in 2007, and Smart was named the defensive coordinator in 2008.
Since Smart took over the reins of the Crimson Tide defense, the unit has never finished a season ranked lower than No. 7 in scoring defense and finished No. 1 in both 2010 and 2011.
Smart is one of the hottest names in the assistant ranks, and he pops up as a potential replacement for head coaching openings nationwide.
Smart’s decision to stay with Saban either means the right job hasn’t come along, or he’s waiting for his turn at Alabama.
Either way, his name would be at the top of the list if Saban left tomorrow.
It’s worth noting that Smart played defensive back at Georgia from 1995 to 1998, making the Bulldogs serious potential suitors for his services in the future.
Jim McElwain served as Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama from 2008 to 2011, jumping ship in 2012 to take over the head job at Colorado State.
McElwain is a realistic option because he is the other guy with coordinator credentials during Saban’s run at Alabama.
In other words, he was a huge part of the making of the “system.”
What may hurt his chances to actually get the job are that he led Colorado State to a 4-8 finish last season, and he’s an offensive-minded guy in a defensive-focused program.
Yes, while the Crimson Tide enjoyed top-10 national rankings in defense under Saban and Kirby Smart, they never finished better than No. 18 nationally in scoring offense under McElwain.
You have to figure that if anyone could lure Chris Petersen away from Boise State it would be Alabama and the SEC.
Really, what better way for Petersen to prove that he really is that good than to take his skills to the biggest stage in college football?
Petersen is attractive because he’s built his own “system” at Boise State.
This is a formula that has cranked out an 84-8 record, five conference crowns and two BCS bowl wins since 2006.
And before everyone pooh-poohs Petersen’s record because he got it done in the WAC and Mountain West, remember that, according to Rivals.com, his best recruiting class was the No. 53-ranked class of 2011.
So, when you’re comparing Alabama to Boise State, it’s not entirely an apples-to-apples analysis.
Louisville’s Charlie Strong’s name is likely prominent on a number of AD’s “just in case” short lists.
Strong’s win over Florida in last season’s BCS Sugar Bowl is far from the only reason he’d be considered at Alabama, it just provides an exclamation point at the end of the argument.
Strong took over a Louisville program in 2010 that hadn’t gone to a bowl game since Bobby Petrino fled town and led it to three consecutive bowl games and back-to-back Big East titles.
Suddenly, the team that went 15-21 from 2007 to 2009 became the team that went 25-14 from 2010 to 2012.
This makes you wonder what Strong could do with all of the resources Alabama has to offer, especially at what would be the end of the Saban era.
Who is the last guy in college football—before Saban—to build an absolute dynasty in college football?
And who is the last head coach to lead an old-guard, traditionally powerful program back to a period of total domination?
That coach is Pete Carroll, and that program is USC.
Carroll was to the Trojans what Saban now is to Alabama. What ended his run at USC were NCAA sanctions and the call of the NFL.
Not poor performance or disappointing results.
So, what if Carroll decided that his second try at the NFL was done, and he wanted back into big-time college football?
Only this time he wanted to try his luck—and test his skills—in the vaunted SEC?
Carroll is definitely the wild card on this list but, rather than think “why” or “how,” instead ponder “why not?”
Imagine the new headline, “PETE CARROLL TAKES OVER FOR NICK SABAN AT ALABAMA!”