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‘I owe everything to him’: Former assistants grateful to Saban

For formerly terminated head coaches, coming under the tutelage of Nick Saban has proved to be a career-reviving experience.

On a seemingly yearly basis, the Alabama head coach brings in former program leaders to his staff to contribute to the Tide’s success and undergo a rehabilitative process.

This strategy of coaching development, according to Saban, is implemented by identifying two types of individuals.

“I like two types of people. I like people who are young and have a chance to be really good like Kirby (Smart) or Will Muschamp — Jimbo (Fisher) was a young guy,” said Saban in an ESPN feature during last Saturday’s edition of “College GameDay.”

“And then I like guys who have a lot of experience that have a track record of being able to do something extremely well.”

Upon the 2013 regular season’s conclusion, Saban invited offensive guru and fired USC head coach Lane Kiffin to examine his team’s activities. Just a few weeks later, Kiffin would be named the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator.

“I couldn’t get anything. No one would talk to me,” said Kiffin. “I’m sitting there going, ‘I’m the fired USC coach. Why is Nick Saban even asking me anything?'”

In December 2016, Kiffin earned a second chance as a head coach with Florida Atlantic University. The play-calling extraordinaire three years later returned to the SEC as head coach of Ole Miss.

“You have an issue, you’ve gotten fired — go there (Alabama), you’re washed of all of it,” said Kiffin. “I felt people viewing me different and all this because he’s giving me the Nick Saban stamp.”

Hired by Saban as an offensive analyst in 2016, Steve Sarkisian, who was also formerly dismissed by USC, would also see his coaching fortunes take a turn in a positive direction.

After earning Saban’s seal of approval, Sarkisian accepted the offensive coordinator position at the Atlanta Falcons in 2017. Two years later, he returned to Alabama in the same role.

“I think he sees beyond the firing of individual coaches, and digs into the coach, the scheme, the developer of talent,” said the now-University of Texas head coach.

Mike Locksley, former Tide offensive analyst who earned a promotion to offensive coordinator in 2017, likened a coach being hired by Saban to having holy water being sprinkled upon them.

“As I like to say, the holy water of Nick Saban thrown on you to say ‘yes,'” said Locksley, who is now the head coach at the University of Maryland.

For Butch Jones, who Saban hired as an offensive analyst after being relieved of his head coaching duties at the University of Tennessee in 2017, his revived career can be attributed to being given a second chance by Saban.

“I owe everything to him,” said the Arkansas State University head coach.

The trend of Saban bringing formerly dismissed head coaches onto his staff continued in 2021 when he hired Bill O’Brien to take over the reins of the Tide’s high-powered offense.

“You’re able to watch coach every day, and the process is something that he talks about a lot and you learn about the different processes within the program,” said O’Brien. “And I think that’s something that has been invaluable to me.”

According to Saban, his former assistants experiencing success post-Alabama is due to the Crimson Tide’s program as a whole.

“I’m proud of the fact that we’ve had a lot of guys here that were good people, that did a really good job,” said the seven-time national champion. “And they got rewarded because of the job they did. But I don’t think it’s because of Nick Saban. I think it’s because of Alabama, the whole team, the whole program.”

Dylan Smith is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL

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