Alabama Football: Ranking Best and Worst ‘Saban Tree’ Head Coaches

Bama Saban And Kiffin 2016
Bama Saban And Kiffin 2016 /
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Alabama Football
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports /

The overall rankings are subjective because the levels of opportunity and competition vary so widely. The rankings are also based on the entire head coaching careers, so a recent strong season, like Mel Tucker’s last season at Michigan State, is diminished by a mediocre season at Colorado. Tucker may well zoom up such a ranking over the next few seasons.

Thirteen of the guys are current head coaches, so like Tucker, their future seasons may define a different level of success.

Nick Saban Tree Ranking of Head Coaches

  1. Lane Kiffin – The turn-arounds Kiffin has performed at Tennessee, Florida Atlantic and Ole Miss warrant his No. 1 ranking.
  2. Jimbo Fisher – Jimbo had a strong performance at FSU until his last season and has the 2013 National Championship win. He also has the Aggies trending up.
  3. Kirby Smart – Maybe Kirby deserves the second spot on the basis of his winning record and National Championship. There is still some concern Kirby is more of a great recruiter than a great coach.
  4. Mario Cristobal – Mario’s performance at Oregon was tremendous and many believe he will do the same at Miami.
  5. Mark Dantonio – Dantonio had a solid run with the Spartans.
  6. Billy Napier – Napier has not been on the big stage and must still prove himself, but so far, he has done well.
  7. Curt Cignettti – His work at James Madison has been outstanding. Leading an FCS program to the FBS level (next season in the Sun Belt) bumped him up this list.
  8. Mel Tucker – Tucker may quickly move to one of the nation’s top coaches, but his 3-season resume needs time after being 5-7 at Colorado and 2-5 in his first Michigan State season.
  9. Jim McElwain – JMac has a chance to re-establish some coaching cred with CMU after leading them to 9-4 last season.
  10. Steve Sarkisian – Sark should be higher on this list and will be if gets Texas going, after starting at 5-7 in Austin.
  11. Will Muschamp – Muschamp is probably a better coach than his record, but the record is not very good.
  12. Butch Jones – Butch spent plenty of time learning from Saban despite not being an onfield coach. His first season back as a head coach was a disappointing 2-10 at Arkansas State.
  13. Major Applewhite – Applewhite was in over his head in one season as a Crimson Tide OC. He didn’t do much better as Houston’s head coach.
  14. Bobby Williams – Williams had a tough job of following Nick Saban in East Lansing.
  15. Jeremy Pruitt – Tennessee was toxic when Pruitt got to Knoxville. He does not deserve all the blame for poor performances over three seasons.
  16. Derek Dooley – If possible, Dooley stepped into a worse situation in Knoxville than the one Jeremy Pruitt faced.
  17. Geoff Collins – Collins had a short, off-the-field stint under Saban in 2007. Based on his Georgia Tech record, he may become a CNS reclamation project soon.
  18. Mike Locksley – Saban saved Locksley’s career. Maybe he can prosper in College Park but his New Mexico record still taints him.

Note: Coaching records courtesy of

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The Nick Saban Process of building championship teams has been available to each of the 18 coaches. Certainly, the guys who worked for Saban in Tuscaloosa were afforded more opportunity as Saban refined his program components. Some of them are in current jobs because schools wanted to hire a coach and buy the Saban Process as a result.

It is hard to say how much of the Process transfers with a coach who does not have all of Nick Saban’s unique talents.