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Revisiting the graduates of the Saban school for wayward coaches

By now, we all have at least a working knowledge of the Nick Saban Rehabilitation School for Wayward Coaches. When a coordinator or head coaches don’t win enough games or lose control of their program, they’re politely asked to leave their job along with millions of dollars in buyout money. In the past decade, many of these high-profile “failures” end up at the Saban School serving as an analyst, a coordinator or elsewhere among the Crimson Tide coaching staff.

It’s easy to see why they would want to balance their past shortcomings with immediate success. It’s easy to see why so many enter the Saban School. Maybe they want to learn why their last job went south. Maybe M.C. Hammer was their accountant and their bank account is drained. Maybe they want the tools to recruit and excel that they know they can get at the Saban School and the Crimson Tide.

What’s certain is that, with the recent hiring of ex-Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham (not to be confused with college football villain Todd Graham), the Saban School isn’t done accepting new applicants.

With that, let’s take a look back at some of the more high-profile personalities who have cycled through the Nick Saban Rehabilitation School for Wayward Coaches and where they’ve landed:

  • Lane Kiffin. He’s one of the most notable names on this list simply because of his personality. Once the youngest head coach in the history of the NFL, Kiffin was fired by the Oakland Raiders in 2008, he left Tennessee in shambles after one season in 2009, and he was let go by USC in 2013. The Trojans didn’t even let him ride back to Los Angeles with the team. He spent four years as Alabama’s offensive coordinator before moving on to lead the Florida Atlantic Owls. He eventually found his way back to the SEC with Ole Miss. Under Kiffin last season, the Rebels notched a 10-win season for only the third time in fifty years.
  • Bill O’Brien. While his fall from grace wasn’t nearly as spectacular as Kiffin’s, O’Brien’s firing as both the head coach and GM of the Texans in 2020 was as high profile as it gets in the NFL. He now has one arguably lackluster year under his belt as Alabama’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
  • Mike Groh. He’s the one that started it all. After being fired by his dad as Virginia’s offensive coordinator, Groh served as receivers coach and recruiting coordinator for two years. Since then, he’s built a decade-long career as an NFL assistant.
  • Steve Sarkisian. After alcohol-related issues gave him a pink slip with USC and the nickname “Sark After Dark,” Steve Sarkisian’s career had hit rock bottom. He moved to Tuscaloosa to serve as an analyst and eventually as offensive coordinator in the Tide’s losing effort against Clemson in the 2017 National Championship Game. He moved on to the pros for two years before returning to Alabama, winning a championship and the Broyles Award in 2020. He’s now the head coach at Texas, one of the most well-funded programs in the country, earning $34 million over six years.
  • Butch Jones. Once rightly ridiculed for saying his Tennessee squad were “Life Champions” in the face of several losses, Butch finally got to smoke a cigar on the Third Saturday in October when he entered the Saban School after his 2017 firing in Knoxville. He’s now the head guy at Arkansas State, turning in a rough 2-10 record during his first year.
  • Mario Cristobal. Now forming an assistant coaching murderer’s row of his own in Coral Gables, the Miami head football coach used Saban’s School to turn a firing at Florida International into a head coaching gig at Oregon and now with the Hurricanes.

Of course, there are more: Major Applewhite, Mike Stoops, Doug Marrone, Mike Locksley, Kevin Steele, Charlie Strong and Bill Napier are all direct beneficiaries under Saban’s coaching tree.

The most successful graduate of the Saban School might just be Saban himself. After one national championship at LSU, the sky was the limit, but his move to the Miami Dolphins could’ve stalled the legendary career where it once stood: failing to get professional football players to listen to you, and pinning all your hopes on Daunte Culpepper.

Since Nick Saban became patient zero of his own rehab program – of his own process – the G.O.A.T. has become the most successful of them all.

Listen to the Throw The Flag Podcast for more on the Saban School, Calvin Ridley’s ridiculous suspension, Aaron Rodgers villainy, WNBA Star Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia and more from the sports world.

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