BamaInsider - Rob's Rankings: Six most likely candidates to replace Nick Saban
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Rob's Rankings: Six most likely candidates to replace Nick Saban

CLASS OF 2019 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | State | Position | Team

Nick Saban
Nick Saban (AP)

The most decorated active coach in college football, Nick Saban will turn 67 this year. And while Alabama fans may not want to think about the fact that their current head coach can’t work forever, retirement gets more appealing with each passing year. There’s no telling when Saban will hang it up, but it’s probably not too early to start taking a casual look at the candidates to replace him in Tuscaloosa. This week, we’ve ranked those candidates by likelihood as things stand today.

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1. DABO SWINNEY, CLEMSON HEAD COACH

Why he might be the one: Because conventional wisdom dictates he’ll be a candidate. Not only is Swinney the only coach to beat Saban in a national title game, but he’s an Alabama graduate with strong ties to the state and region. Swinney was born in Birmingham and spent years as a Crimson Tide assistant. Not many schools are lucky enough to have an alumnus as one of the hottest young coaches in college football, so it’s nice to see plucky upstart Alabama catching a break for once. Swinney will almost certainly get a call when Saban retires. What happens from there, however, is where the intrigue arrives.

Why he might not: Swinney has built something incredible at Clemson and has to be comfortable in his current role. Job security is rare in the coaching world, after all. Swinney is one of few head coaches that seem to have earned leeway on that front, so walking away from Clemson and into Tuscaloosa, where expectations will be a mile high is a risky career move. Swinney would be wise to think long and hard before making such a shift.

2. KIRBY SMART, GEORGIA HEAD COACH

Why he might be the one: Well, so far so good for Smart as a head coach. Smart, like Swinney, was born in Alabama and spent a healthy chunk of time as an assistant under Saban. He’s only been a head coach for two years, but if he keeps his current trajectory until Saban hangs it up, the Tide athletic department will likely make a call to an old friend.

Alabama would likely have no problem engaging UGA in a bidding war for Smart. And while it’s not like the Bulldog athletic department is strapped for cash, standing toe-to-toe with the Tide in that department isn’t easy. Alabama held off Georgia once in the past, when the Bulldogs came calling to hire then-Bama assitant Smart as a coordinator in 2010.

Why he might not: Smart is a Georgia alumnus. That matters. Also, he’s beloved by the Bulldog fan base, and has the program humming on the field and the recruiting trail. All indications are that the Bulldogs are poised to be a mainstay near the top of the SEC for years to come. Walking away from success isn’t easy, but there’s also the other side of the coin here.

College football coaches can fall out of favor in a hurry, and a few bad seasons would push Smart down the Tide’s list of candidates. As great as Smart has been in Athens, success is a fickle thing. Smart will need to maintain his winning aura if he hopes to be on the Tide’s shortlist when the time comes.

3. JUSTIN FUENTE, VIRGINIA TECH

Justin Fuente
Justin Fuente (AP)

Why he might be the one: Fuente has youth, a winning track record and coaching ties to both Texas and the Southeast working in his favor. Will he be the first choice to replace Saban? Probably not, but the next few years could easily see him coach his way into the conversation.

Fuente has won nine or 10 games in his last four seasons as a head coach, a span that includes his time at both Memphis and Virginia Tech. It seems as though he’s one more 10-win season away from becoming appealing bait for blueblood programs. If he can keep up this sort of trajectory until the Alabama job opens, Fuente may find himself on the candidate list.

Why he might not: Fuente has work left to do. It seems as though he’d need to win an ACC title before he catches the attention of a program such as Alabama. And while that’s not some sort of pipedream, it’s not easy, either. If the Tide decide to venture outside of Saban’s coaching tree, there are few more proven young options. That said, Alabama isn’t the kind of program that needs to take a chance. Fuente is wholly unfamiliar with life in the SEC, which may matter to the people making the decisions in Tuscaloosa.

4. JAMES FRANKLIN, PENN STATE HEAD COACH

Why he might be the one: He’s young and has ties to the southeast. Franklin found success recruiting the region as the head coach at VanderbiltVANDERBILT?!? – so imagine the work he could do in the Southeast with the resources and prestige that come with the Alabama job. Franklin is as appealing a name as there is in the country, as it’s hard to find truly established head coaches that are young enough to lead a new program for the long term.

Why he might not: Franklin has no ties to Saban or Alabama. He’s originally from the Northeast and seems to be pretty comfortable in his current gig. It seems like Bama would have to swing and miss a time or two to seriously court Franklin, and there’s no telling how interested he’d be even if that happened.

5. TOM HERMAN, TEXAS HEAD COACH

Why he might be the one: He’s young. He has a high profile. He has strong ties to the fertile recruiting ground of Texas and a nationally recognized name.

Including Herman on this list is admittedly a bit stretch, but it’s not impossible that Alabama would want to bring him in for a conversation should Saban retire in the next few years. The current Texas coach is just one year removed from being the hottest commodity in coaching, and it’s not as though he’s done anything to screw up his reputation since. If the Longhorns continue to improve under his leadership and Alabama finds itself in the market for a coach in the next couple of years, things might get interesting .... might.

Why he might not: Herman went 7-6 in his first year at Texas, so he’ll need to take the Longhorns to the next level if he’s to be so much as a blip on Alabama’s radar when the time to make a hire arrives. His place on this list comes by virtue of being a young coach with potential. That said, the Tide may have given him a look had it been in the market when Herman was the nation’s hottest young coach at Houston not long ago, so it’s not inconceivable that he’ll find himself in such a position again. It’s probably wise to keep in mind that Texas is one of the only schools on the planet that can and would engage Alabama in a bidding war for a football coach.

6. JEREMY PRUITT, TENNESSEE HEAD COACH

Why he might be the one: An Alabama native, Pruitt has a sparkling reputation in Tuscaloosa, as he acted as the Crimson Tide’s defensive coordinator during last year’s national title run. Pruitt, who has coached at Georgia, Florida State and in the high school ranks, has incredibly strong ties to multiple recruiting grounds in the Southeast. He’s likely to be under 50 when Alabama is in the market for a new coach, so you don’t have to squint to see the potential fit if things go well for him at Tennessee.

Why he might not: Pruitt is yet to coach a single game from the big chair, so there’s that. Tennessee’s new head coach could ruin his opportunity at the Alabama job relatively easily as a bad season or two would spoil most of the goodwill he built with Crimson Tide fans by finding wild success as the program’s defensive coordinator. A few good years at Tennessee could put him squarely in the Tide’s crosshairs. A few bad years there could have him taking a hard look at Group of Five jobs.

OVERTIME

Josh Rosen
Josh Rosen (AP Images)

This week in Overtime, we put a bow on the NFL draft by outlying and ranking the five most insane and illogical things said about new Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen, who, for reasons nobody can seem to explain, became a polarizing figure in the month leading up to the draft.

1. The winner and by far the tallest tree in a forest of stupidity has to do with Browns vice president of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith deciding against drafting Rosen because … well, because of something. I think maybe it was because his girlfriend being on the UCLA volleyball team? Or maybe because an assistant volleyball coach in an airport somewhere said nothing about his character? This actually makes so little sense that I still can’t figure out what exactly the knock was.

2. An anonymous NFL executive referencing driveways and garages as a knock on a player is insane on its own. Using a “famous” quote from a basketball coach (at Princeton of all places) to do so is another level of bonkers. Yet here we sit. Josh Rosen: Not a good quarterback because his parents made a bunch of money.

3. Checking in at No. 3 is another anonymous NFL person. This time using an insult made famous by Disney’s The Mighty Ducks to imply that Rosen’s new, extremely rich quarterback coach would dislike the former UCLA star because Rosen’s parents also happen to be rich. It’s important to note here that Byron Leftwich played nearly 10 years in the NFL and is now making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year as a coach.

4. Jim Mora, who coached Rosen at UCLA, made the incredibly astute observation that, like literally every other college football player, his former quarterback is a millennial. He went on to point out that Rosen sometimes wants to know “why” he’s asked to do things a certain way.

5. Former serviceable NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer, who worked with Rosen when the Cardinals quarterback was in high school, also got in on the act. At some point, Dilfer decided that Rosen will “piss off half the people” he interacts with, presumably because Dilfer himself was once one of those people. Dilfer actually went on to spin the statement into some kind of weird, backhanded compliment, but that doesn’t make the assertion logical.