Nick Saban has achieved just about everything there is to achieve as a college football coach.
Seven national championships, 10 conference championships (one MAC, nine SEC), an .884 career winning percentage, 12-time national coach of the year honors and a host of player-related trivia that would make the entire College Football Hall of Fame envious.
But one stat in particular comes up more often than perhaps anything else Saban has accomplished: his record against former assistant coaches.
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It’s a record that spans 12 seasons and has made victims of nine former assistants who went on to become head coaches at separate 10 teams. And Saban has beaten every single one of them — so far.
To be sure, it’s not exactly a secret as to how Saban has achieved the feat. Just ask Ole Miss coach and Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who has lost to Saban twice since leaving Tuscaloosa:
“He’s undefeated vs. almost everybody,” Kiffin said before Ole Miss’ 2021 game at Alabama (via the Clarion Ledger). “There’s a reason he’s the best in the history of college football. Even when people know how his place works, he’s still undefeated, which is amazing.”
Kiffin certainly isn’t wrong in his summation of Saban’s record against former assistants — especially when you contextualize that string of victories. With that, Sporting News takes a look at his as-yet undefeated record vs. assistants, including all-time record, margin of victory, series histories and more:
What is Nick Saban’s record vs. former assistants?
Saban boasts a 24-0 record against his former assistants, a streak that started against Tennessee coach Derek Dooley in 2010.
How long that streak lasts remains to be seen, but Saban’s last victory over a former assistant took place against Lane Kiffin on Oct. 2, 2021. The record has a chance of extending into the foreseeable future with Kiffin (Ole Miss) and Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M) coaching against Saban in the SEC West division. There’s also the possibility he could meet Kirby Smart (Georgia) in either the regular season or SEC championship game.
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What former assistants have coached against Saban?
To date, nine of Saban’s former assistants have coached against him: Dooley, Kiffin, Fisher, Smart, Mark Dantonio, Jeremy Pruitt, Will Muschamp, Jim McElwain and Billy Napier. He has beaten Fisher the most, four times, coaching against him every year since 2017. He has a 3-0 record against five assistants; a 2-0 record against Kiffin and Dantonio; and a 1-0 record against Napier.
Below is where each of Saban’s previous assistants served under him …
- Mark Dantonio: Defensive backs (Michigan State,1995-00)
- Jimbo Fisher: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks (LSU, 2000-04)
- Derek Dooley: Tight ends (LSU, 2000-02); associate head coach/running backs (LSU, 2003-04); tight ends (Miami Dolphins, 2005-06)
- Will Muschamp: Linebackers (LSU, 2001); defensive coordinator (LSU, 2002-04); associate head coach (Miami Dolphins, 2005)
- Kirby Smart: Defensive backs (LSU, 2004); safeties (Miami Dolphins, 2006); associate head coach/defensive backs (Alabama, 2007); defensive coordinator (Alabama, 2008-15)
- Jeremy Pruitt: Director of player development (Alabama, 2007-09); defensive backs (Alabama, 2010-12); defensive coordinator/linebackers (Alabama, 2016-17)
- Jim McElwain: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks (Alabama, 2008-11)
- Billy Napier: Analyst (Alabama, 2011); wide receivers (Alabama, 2013-16)
- Lane Kiffin: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks (Alabama, 2014-16)
… And his record against each of them (plus where they coached against him):
|Coach||Team(s)||Record vs. Saban|
|Mark Dantonio||Michigan State||0-2|
|Jimbo Fisher||Florida State (0-1), Texas A&M (0-3)||0-4|
|Will Muschamp||Florida (0-2), South Carolina (0-1)||0-3|
|Jim McElwain||Colorado State (0-1), Florida (0-2)||0-3|
|Lane Kiffin||Ole Miss||0-2|
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Nick Saban’s margin of victory vs. former assistants
Saban boasts an average margin of victory of 25.2 points per game against his former assistants — a 1,022-418 point advantage across 24 previous matchups.
Saban has scored the most points against Fisher (168), and surrendered the fewest to Dantonio (seven). He has the highest average margin of victory against Napier (42 points per game) and the greatest point differential against Dooley (93 points):
|Coach||Point differential||Margin of victory|
|Mark Dantonio||87-7 (plus-80)||40 points per game|
|Jimbo Fisher||168-82 (plus-86)||21.5 points per game|
|Derek Dooley||122-29 (plus-93)||31 points per game|
|Will Muschamp||127-54 (plus-73)||24.3 points per game|
|Kirby Smart||102-75 (plus-27)||9 points per game|
|Jeremy Pruitt||141-51 (plus-90)||30 points per game|
|Jim McElwain||114-37 (plus-77)||25.6 points per game|
|Billy Napier||56-14 (plus-42)||42 points per game|
|Lane Kiffin||105-69 (plus-36)||18 points per game|
Which assistant has come closest to beating Nick Saban?
Honorable mention goes to Kiffin, who gave Saban all he could handle in a 63-48 loss in Oxford, Miss. in 2020. Special consideration should also be given to McElwain, who coached his Gators to a 29-15 loss in the 2015 SEC championship game.
But the coach who has come the closest to beating Saban is Smart. He very nearly defeated him in the 2018 College Football Playoff championship game, when Georgia jumped out to a 13-0 halftime lead, then a 20-7 third-quarter lead, before ultimately losing 26-23 in overtime. The Bulldogs lost a similarly close game later that calendar year in the SEC championship game, taking a 21-7 lead in the second quarter — then a 28-14 lead in the third quarter — before falling 35-28.
In 2020, Georgia took a 24-17 lead over Alabama in Tuscaloosa that diminished to 24-20 at halftime. The Bulldogs maintained that lead until the 4-minute mark of the third quarter, when Mac Jones threw a 90-yard touchdown to Jaylen Waddle to permanently put Alabama ahead in the 41-27 win.
To date, Smart is the only former assistant to have lost by only one possession to Saban. He has also limited him to the lowest margin of victory: nine points per game.
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Nick Saban history vs. former assistants
Saban vs. Derek Dooley
- Oct. 23, 2010: No. 7 Alabama 41, Tennessee 10
- Oct. 22, 2011: No. 2 Alabama 37, Tennessee 6
- Oct. 20, 2012: No. 1 Alabama 44, Tennessee 13
Saban vs. Jim McElwain
- Sept. 21, 2013: No. 1 Alabama 31, Colorado State 6
- Dec. 5, 2015: No. 2 Alabama 29, No. 18 Florida 15 (SEC championship)
- Dec. 3, 2016: No. 1 Alabama 54, No. 15 Florida 16 (SEC championship)
Saban vs. Mark Dantonio
- Jan. 1, 2011: No. 15 Alabama 49, No. 7 Michigan State 7
- Dec. 31, 2015: No. 2 Alabama 38, No. 3 Michigan State 0
Saban vs. Will Muschamp
- Oct. 1, 2011: No. 3 Alabama 38, No. 12 Florida 10
- Sept. 20, 2014: No. 3 Alabama 42, Florida 21
- Sept. 14, 2019: No. 2 Alabama 47, South Carolina 23
Saban vs. Jimbo Fisher
- Sept. 2, 2017: No. 1 Alabama 24, No. 3 Florida State 7
- Sept. 22, 2018: No. 1 Alabama 45, No. 22 Texas A&M 23
- Oct. 12, 2019: No. 1 Alabama 47, No. 24 Texas A&M 28
- Oct. 3, 2020: No. 2 Alabama 52, No. 13 Texas A&M 24
Saban vs. Kirby Smart
Jan. 8, 2018: No. 4 Alabama 26, No. 3 Georgia 23 (overtime) (College Football Playoff championship)
Dec. 1, 2018: No. 1 Alabama 35, No. 4 Georgia 28
Oct. 17, 2020: No. 2 Alabama 41, No. 3 Georgia 24
Saban vs. Jeremy Pruitt
Oct. 20, 2018: No. 1 Alabama 58, Tennessee 21
Oct. 19, 2019: No. 1 Alabama 35, Tennessee 13
Oct. 24, 2020: No. 1 Alabama 48, Tennessee 17
Saban vs. Billy Napier
Sept. 29, 2018: No. 1 Alabama 56, Louisiana 14
Saban vs. Lane Kiffin
Oct. 10, 2020: No. 1 Alabama 63, Ole Miss 48
Oct. 2, 2021: No. 1 Alabama 42, No. 12 Ole Miss 21