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Nick Saban vs. the Nick Saban Coaching Tree

Last Updated: October 1, 2021
The Alabama boss routinely beats up teams coached by his former assistants. Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss gets the latest shot Saturday.

When you win seven national championships as a head coach like Nick Saban has — more than all but eight entire schools in college football history — other programs are inevitably going to poach your assistant coaches in hopes of carrying over some of that magic.

The Saban coaching tree has grown into a giant California sequoia over the years; 16 men who served on his staffs for at least one season have gone on to receive head coaching jobs (another argument bolstering his case as the greatest college football coach of all time). These coordinators, position coaches, and analysts have worked with Saban mainly during his 15-year tenure with the Crimson Tide, but also during stops at LSU, Michigan State, and the Miami Dolphins.

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Some of those guys even went from Alabama directly to an SEC rival, like current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. And on Saturday, former Saban offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin leads the Ole Miss Rebels into Tuscaloosa for a hyped-up battle of ranked SEC West foes.

Let’s take an in-depth look at the head coaches making up the branches of Nick Saban’s coaching tree and how they’ve fared against their old boss. Nine have faced him as head coaches after becoming members of his coaching tree.

  • Mark Dantonio, retired. Record vs. Saban with Michigan State Spartans: 0-3
  • Derek Dooley, tight ends coach, New York Giants. Former head coach, Tennessee Volunteers. Record vs. Saban: 0-3
  • Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M Aggies. Former head coach, Florida State Seminoles. Record vs. Saban: 0-4
  • Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss Rebels. Former head coach, Tennessee. Record vs. Saban since joining coaching tree: 0-1. Pre-tree record: 0-1
  • Jim McElwain, Central Michigan Chippewas. Former head coach, Colorado State Rams and Florida Gators. Record vs. Saban: 0-3
  • Will Muschamp, defensive assistant, Georgia. Former head coach, Florida and South Carolina Gamecocks. Record vs. Saban: 0-3
  • Billy Napier, Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. Record vs. Saban: 0-1
  • Jeremy Pruitt, senior defensive assistant, New York Giants. Former head coach, Tennessee. Record vs. Saban: 0-3
  • Kirby Smart, Georgia Bulldogs. Record vs. Saban: 0-3

All told, no Nick Saban assistant has ever defeated the big man in a whopping 23 tries over the years, including national title and bowl games.

Yes. 0-23.

Additionally, two Saban assistants only coached against him before joining his tree and have yet to do so since:

  • Mario Cristobal, Oregon Ducks. Former head coach, FIU Panthers. Pre-tree record: 0-1.
  • Butch Jones, Arkansas State Red Wolves. Former head coach, Central Michigan, Cincinnati Bearcats, Tennessee. Pre-tree record: 0-5

Finally, three former Saban assistants have yet to coach against him either before or since joining his tree:

  • Major Applewhite, current offensive coordinator, South Alabama Jaguars. Former head coach, Houston Cougars.
  • Curt Cignetti, James Madison Dukes. Former head coach, IUP Crimson Hawns and Elon Phoenix.
  • Mike Locksley, Maryland Terrapins. Former head coach, New Mexico Lobos.
  • Steve Sarkisian, Texas Longhorns. Former head coach, Washington Huskies and USC Trojans.
  • Mel Tucker, Michigan State Spartans. Former head coach, Colorado Buffaloes.

While it’s not a greater achievement than his seven national championships, 23-0 against your former assistants is an authentically amazing feat. In Saban’s battles between master and student, the master of college football has always prevailed.

“There’s a reason he’s the best in the history of college football,” Lane Kiffin told reporters Wednesday. “Even when people know how his place works, he’s still undefeated, which is amazing.”

About The Author
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.