Crimson Tide Top 5: Nick Saban Assistant Coaches

Throughout the month of June, Bama Central writers will pick the best five players in each Alabama sport, and for each position group in football
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23-0.

Nick Saban's unblemished record against former assistants will likely be never touched by another coach again. 

It's even more impressive when you think about who he has beaten to get to this point — Jimbo Fisher, Kirby Smart, Lane Kiffin, Will Muschamp, Mark Dantonio, Billy Napier, among others. 

And there's still other former Saban disciples out there waiting for their first turn at their former boss like Oregon's Mario Cristobal and Texas' Steve Sarkisian. 

However, working for Saban has helped most of these coaches regain their image in the national spotlight like Kiffin and Sarkisian or he's been influential in helping find assistants a first-time head coaching job like Charles Huff who was hired by Marshall this offseason. 

Regardless, the Alabama dynasty wouldn't be the same without Saban's assistants and what they have contributed to a program that has won six national championships in 14 seasons. 

5. Jeremy Pruitt

Pruitt began his rise in coaching at Hoover High School as an assistant coach, where he helped lead the Buccaneers to state titles in 2004 and 2005. That success led him to be hired as the Director of Player Development by Saban in 2007. 

He would then be promoted to defensive backs coach in 2010, the position he served for three seasons where he recruited All-Americans like Mark Barron, Dee Milliner, Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie. 

His most recent stint with the Crimson Tide saw him as the team's defensive coordinator in 2016 and 2017, before he was hired by Tennessee. 

With Pruitt as the defensive coordinator, Alabama led the nation in scoring and rushing defense and finished second in total defensive in 2016, while in 2017, the unit was again first in scoring defense and second in total defense.

4. Jim McElwain

McElwain was hired in 2008 and Saban's second offensive coordinator in Tuscaloosa following Major Applewhite taking an assistant position with Texas. 

Under his tutelage on the offensive side of the ball, Alabama won two national championships, one SEC championship and saw its first ever Heisman Trophy winner in running back Mark Ingram II. 

After Alabama demolished LSU 21-0 in the 2012 BCS National Championship game, McElwain left to be the head coach at Colorado State then parlayed that opportunity to become the coach at Florida. 

With the Gators, he won the SEC East title twice and had one 10-win season and was later fired during the 2017 campaign. Since 2019, McElwain has been at the helm of the Central Michigan Chippewas and guided the team to an 11-9 record.

3. Steve Sarkisian

Following his uneasy departure at USC, Sarkisian was hired as an offensive analyst with the Crimson Tide in the fall of 2016. However, he was promoted to offensive coordinator for the 2017 CFP National Championship Game against Clemson that Alabama ultimately lost on the final play, 35-31. 

Back into the spotlight, he left for the same position with the Atlanta Falcons then returned to Tuscaloosa in January of 2019. In two full seasons as offensive coordinator, Sarkisian helped re-write the record books and produce two of the best offensive seasons Crimson Tide fans had ever seen. 

For the 2019 campaign, Sarkisian had quarterback Tua Tagovailoa at his disposal until a hip injury forced him to miss the team's final three games of the season and likely a spot in the playoffs.

In 2020, Sarkisian engineered an offense that had three of the top five Heisman Trophy vote-getters in wide receiver DeVonta Smith, quarterback Mac Jones and running back Najee Harris. 

Sarkisian is tasked now with leading the Texas Longhorns back to former glory and he'll have a crack at Saban and the Crimson Tide on Sept. 10, 2022. 

2. Lane Kiffin

Kiffin's hiring prior to the 2014 season marked a change in the offensive philosophy of Saban — from a run-first system to a foot-on-the-gas air-raid attack that lit up scoreboards across the country for years to come. 

He elevated the play of signal callers like Blake Sims, Jacob Coker and Jalen Hurts. Kiffin also helped produce a Heisman Trophy winner in running back Derrick Henry in 2015.

Under Kiffin, the Crimson Tide reached the inaugural CFP before falling to Ohio State in the 2015 Sugar Bowl and then won the 2015 national championship in a classic shootout against Clemson. Following the Crimson Tide's win over Washington in the CFP semifinal versus Washington in 2016, Kiffin went back to the head coach ranks at Florida Atlantic. 

Now, he's returned to the SEC at Ole Miss and put a scare into the Crimson Tide faithful last season, when Alabama squeaked out a 63-48 victory on the road in Oxford.

1. Kirby Smart

Who else would be at No. 1 on this list?

Smart helped Saban lay the foundation to the greatest dynasty college football has ever seen. He joined the Crimson Tide staff in 2007 and was quickly promoted to defensive coordinator in 2008 and won the Broyles Award following the 2009 season. 

He was the first Alabama assistant to ever win the award. Smart's leadership on the defensive side of the ball helped pave the way for the Crimson Tide to win four national championships (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015).

Smart is now going into his sixth season as the head coach at his alma mater, Georgia. He's come the closest to taking down his former boss, leading at halftime of all three games they have played since he has been at the helm before faltering in the second half of all those contests. 

Could he be the first former Saban disciple to achieve what no one else has done? 

The Crimson Tide Top 5 will appear every day during the month of June on BamaCentral.

Crimson Tide Top 5: Introduction

Linebackers

Softball

Tight Ends

Women's Basketball

Specialists

Women's Golf

Offensive Line

Men's Golf

Quarterbacks

Baseball

Defensive Linemen

Women's Tennis

Men's Swimming

Wide Receivers

Women's Swimming