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Joel Klatt: Why all signs point to Kalen DeBoer replacing Nick Saban at Alabama
College Football

Joel Klatt: Why all signs point to Kalen DeBoer replacing Nick Saban at Alabama

Updated Jan. 11, 2024 7:31 p.m. ET

Alabama is moving pretty swiftly in its search to replace Nick Saban, and there's a clear front-runner for the job. 

At this point, I would be pretty surprised if Washington's Kalen DeBoer isn't the next head coach at Alabama. 

DeBoer, who just led Washington to the national championship game before losing to Michigan on Monday night, has quietly been looking at the job, I believe. Now, I don't believe DeBoer's interest in Alabama or elsewhere is no slight at Washington. But the athletic director who hired him, Jen Cohen, is now USC's athletic director.

DeBoer also recently hired agent Jimmy Sexton. If you follow college football enough, you'd know Sexton's an agent extraordinaire, but he specializes in the SEC and is Saban's agent. DeBoer can be in the middle of all of the SEC coaching circles with Sexton as his agent.


And here's what I do know: Sexton is going to control Alabama's search — every bit of it. He controls every chess piece on the board. He represents Steve Sarkisian, Dan Lanning, Mike Norvell, Dabo Swinney, James Franklin, all of whom were floated as potential candidates at some point. 

So, Sexton will try to slowplay this as long as Alabama will allow him, so he can get every one of his clients the raise he feels they deserve. 

Who will replace Nick Saban at Alabama?

But Alabama wants to get this done quickly. I've been told Alabama wanted to get this search done within 72 hours of Wednesday's announcement, regardless of name, because it wants to solidify the locker room.

That's why I believe DeBoer is the most logical candidate in this process with how quickly Alabama wants to operate. 

In the brief aftermath of Wednesday's news, I actually listed DeBoer as the third call Alabama should make, but also believing that the calls end with him. He signed an extension last November and has a $12 million buyout, but I don't think the finances are going to be an issue. There have been contract talks again this year, but nothing has been signed. 

DeBoer is 104-12 as a head coach. He has won everywhere he has been. He's excellent, there's no doubt about that. He has a 25-3 record at Washington and took the Huskies to the national title game in Year 2, which was not a fluke just because of Michael Penix Jr. He was initially listed as the third coach I thought Alabama would call, but I don't think it gets past him. 

The first person I had on my list of calls was Sarkisian, followed by Lanning. 

Earlier Thursday, Lanning announced he's staying at Oregon. We haven't heard any word on whether Sarkisian passed up the job, but there are a few things that make him a leading candidate. 

Saban gave Sarkisian his first job after he was fired from USC, bringing him on as an analyst in 2016 and making him the interim offensive coordinator for the national championship game that year. Sarkisian left the program after that game to become the Falcons offensive coordinator for two seasons, but came back in 2019. 

Not long after Sarkisian's return to Alabama, he became a top head coaching candidate again. In fact, I know in the year before he took the Texas job in January 2021, Sarkisian was offered a job that he wanted to take. He even told Saban that he was planning to take the job. 

However, Saban told Sarkisian that he wouldn't want to coach at that school before telling him, "You're going to be great here after I leave." 

I think Saban wanted to set up Alabama like Oklahoma did with Bob Stoops and Lincoln Riley or like Ohio State did with Urban Meyer and Ryan Day, with Sarkisian being his Riley/Day in this scenario. I believe that was Saban's intention, but as we all know, it didn't work out that way. 

Joel Klatt on the Alabama coaching search

Life, opportunities and success got in the way of that plan coming to fruition. After turning down that job, Sarkisian was hired as the head coach at Texas a year later, which I think both he and Saban acknowledged was too good of a job to pass up. 

Point being, at some point within the last few years, Sarkisian envisioned himself as Saban's successor at Alabama. He had so much success there as an offensive coordinator. He has had so much success as a head coach at three different places. Maybe USC wasn't an ultimate success, but he built Washington from a no-win program to a perennial bowl contender. He had his life issues at USC, but he turned his life around and became a great offensive coordinator before going to Texas, building it into the team we all think it will be next year. He went to the playoff at Texas this year!

But, just a hunch, I don't think Sarkisian is going to want to go back. I just don't think he's going to leave Texas. 

There are other top names out there, but I don't envision Alabama contacting some of those coaches, like Kirby Smart, Dabo Swinney or Ryan Day. 

At this point though, all indications seem to be that DeBoer will be the next head coach at Alabama. 


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