Alabama Football: Who are the top CFB coaches not named Saban?

Nick Saban is college football’s greatest active coach and arguably the GOAT. Let’s review the very short list of top coaches chasing the Alabama football coach.

Who is on Greg Byrne’s list for the next Alabama football coach? Every A.D. has a list. Even with the best coach in college football, Byrne must be prepared.

We are not suggesting Byrne will be using his list anytime soon. Following the suggestions of Steve Spurrier and Lane Kiffin, we believe Nick Saban will coach for another 7-10 seasons. He has a contract for seven more, going through the 2024 season and we expect he will honor it.

Still, there will come a time. A succession plan must always be in place. Whether or not Dabo is the heir apparent, no plan is complete without contingencies. Let’s put ourselves in Byrne’s role and consider which names should be on his list.

The next coach after Nick Saban will face the same unrelenting championship expectations in the DNA of Alabama football. Just as no one was up to the task of succeeding Bryant, succeeding Saban will be beyond the reach of most men. Alabama football will seek to hire a proven winner and if possible, one with a championship pedigree.

Some criteria to rate winners

Three measurements are essential: winning percentage (we suggest 75 percent minimum); consistency over time (five seasons or longer); and competition at the highest level (Power Five coaches only).

Using the sports-reference.com database we measured all the current FBS coaches. Based on the criteria defined above, only five coaches made the cut. Nick Saban’s head coaching record is 223-62-1; a .781 winning percentage. Check out the other five below:

  • Urban Meyer; 177-31; .851 winning percentage
  • Chris Petersen; 129-29; .816 winning percentage
  • Jimbo Fisher; 83-23; .783 winning percentage
  • Dabo Swinney; 101-30; .771 winning percentage
  • David Shaw; 73-22; .768 winning percentage

Narrow down the list to those with a national championship pedigree and the list is Meyer, Fisher and Dabo. The Aggies guaranteeing Jimbo $75M begins to make some sense. Making even more sense is Dabo as the Alabama football heir apparent.

In fairness to a couple of other coaches, Mark Richt (.739) and Gary Patterson (.737) are not far below David Shaw.

Other hot names (with less than 5 seasons as head coach)

  • Chip Kelly; 4 seasons; 44-5; .898 winning percentage
  • Lincoln Riley; 1 season; 12-2; .857 winning percentage
  • Kirby Smart; 2 seasons; 21-7; .750 winning percentage
  • Tom Herman; 3 seasons; 29-10; .744 winning percentage
  • Scott Frost; 2 seasons; 19-7; .731 winning percentage
  • Clay Helton; 3 seasons; 27-10; .730 winning percentage

Without an unexpected first season flop at UCLA, Kelly will enter the top group after next season. The others have yet to prove themselves. Obviously, none of this group has a national championship.

Big names that don’t measure up

Considering only FBS records, the group below are short of all of our suggested standards.

  • Brain Kelly; 122-56; .685 winning percentage
  • Gus Malzahn; 54-25; .684 winning percentage
  • Mike Gundy; 114-53; .683 winning percentage
  • James Franklin; 60-32; .652 winning percentage
  • Jim Harbaugh; 57-32; .640 winning percentage

As Nick Saban continues to coach (and likely win more championships) others coaches may build significant success. Dan Mullen, Justin Fuente and Paul Chryst could become top coaches based on future achievements.

The BIG unanswered question is can any of these guys (or anyone else) ever match Nick Saban. The future does not provide a factual answer. As Alabama football fans we can hope someday, not anytime soon, another coach is up to the task.

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