The college football coaching carousel appeared to have reached a halt for the 2023-24 cycle back in December, but that all changed in a heartbeat on Jan. 10 when Nick Saban announced his retirement after 17 seasons as the coach at Alabama. The seven-time national champion’s bombshell decision gave way to a ripple effect across the entire sport, leading to five additional coaching searches beyond the epicenter in Tuscaloosa.
The impact wasn’t limited to a single region or conference; at least one school in each time zone within the contiguous United States was forced to make a sudden change in leadership as one vacancy led to another, significantly altering their trajectories. Alabama alone was directly responsible for the departures of three sitting Football Bowl Subdivision coaches, headlined by Kalen DeBoer’s arrival from Washington as Saban’s successor.
Rosters were also impacted by these moves since players have a 30-day widow to enter the transfer portal when a coaching change occurs at their school. Alabama has already seen several notable starters depart, including two rising stars in defensive back Caleb Downs and offensive lineman Kadyn Proctor. For now, though, we focus on the coaching chaos that was sparked by the close of Saban’s legendary run.
Here’s a timeline of how it went down, starting with the single announcement that rocked college football circles.
Nick Saban retires as Alabama coach
Wednesday, Jan. 10: The sports world was sent into a frenzy when reports flooded in during an otherwise calm Wednesday afternoon that Saban’s unparalleled run in the college game had reached its end. Alabama made the news official shortly after. Between stops at Toledo, Michigan State, LSU and Alabama, Saban’s career ended with a record seven national championships — one with the Tigers and six with the Crimson Tide — and an overall mark of 297-71-1. Less than 48 hours passed before Alabama finalized his replacement, putting even more programs on edge.
Alabama names Washington’s Kalen DeBoer as coach
Friday, Jan. 12: Just four days after Washington fell to Michigan in the College Football Playoff National Championship, the Huskies took another blow when Alabama hired away DeBoer as Saban’s successor. Boasting a 104-12 career coaching record that included a 25-3 mark in two seasons at Washington, DeBoer’s name rapidly gained steam in the Crimson Tide’s search as other candidates fell out. With an unexpected vacancy of its own to fill ahead of a much-anticipated move from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten, Washington took a similar approach to Alabama in finding DeBoer’s successor.
Washington names Arizona’s Jedd Fisch as coach
Sunday, Jan. 14: Arizona became the second outbound Pac-12 school forced to deal with an abrupt coaching departure amid a promising stretch of momentum. Although Fisch was linked to several other vacancies amid an impressive turnaround for Arizona, it appeared the school had successfully fended off other suitors ahead of its move to the Big 12. That all changed when Washington came calling with an offer that reportedly more than doubled Fisch’s annual salary to north of $7 million, a deal Fisch couldn’t refuse. It was a brutal swing for a Wildcats program that seemed (and perhaps still seems) poised to contend for a Big 12 championship and College Football Playoff berth in 2024 after the success of a 10-win season in 2023.
Kane Wommack resigns as South Alabama coach
Tuesday, Jan. 16: With DeBoer reportedly targeting Kane Wommack as his next defensive coordinator, South Alabama announced Wommack’s resignation after a 22-16 mark in three seasons as the Jaguars’ coach. Wommack previously coached alongside DeBoer at Indiana as an assistant under former coach Tom Allen in 2019. Wommack is reportedly expected to earn more than $2 million annually in his new role with the Crimson Tide, more than double his salary at South Alabama. Wommack earned $810,000 with the Jaguars in 2023, according to USA TODAY.
Arizona names San Jose State’s Brent Brennan as coach
Tuesday, Jan. 16: California became the fourth state with a school directly impacted by Saban’s retirement after Arizona lured Brennan away from San Jose State to replace Fisch. Although Brennan was a pedestrian 34-48 in seven seasons leading San Jose State, he guided the Spartans to a Mountain West championship in 2020 and contended for another league title in 2023. He’s no stranger to Arizona, where he was once a graduate assistant. Brennan was previously linked to the Wildcats job at the end of 2020, but Fisch ultimately landed the job.
Maurice Linguist resigns as Buffalo coach
Wednesday, Jan. 17: The Saban domino effect officially extended from Montlake to Lake Erie when Linguist resigned as Buffalo’s coach, reportedly with his sights set on joining DeBoer’s defensive staff at Alabama. Linguist went just 14-23 in three seasons guiding the Bulls, that after making his rounds as an assistant across the power conference landscape. He even had a stint with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys in 2020. Reading the tea leaves of Wommack’s situation, Linguist is presumably also due for a healthy pay bump at Alabama. He earned $684,500 at Buffalo during the 2023 season, according to USA TODAY.
South Alabama promotes Major Applewhite to coach
Thursday, Jan. 18: South Alabama kept its coaching transition simple by promoting Applewhite, the team’s offensive coordinator, just two days after Wommack’s resignation. Applewhite has previous coaching experience at Houston, also the result of a promotion from offensive coordinator after former coach Tom Herman departed for Texas in December 2016. The Cougars went 15-11 overall under Applewhite before he was let go after the 2018 campaign.
Buffalo names South Carolina assistant Pete Lembo as coach
Sunday, Jan. 21: Buffalo dipped into the SEC to find Linguist’s replacement, hiring South Carolina associate head coach Pete Lembo. A member of coach Shane Beamer’s original Gamecocks staff in 2021, Lembo has past coaching stops at Lehigh (2001-05), Elon (2006-10) and Ball State (2011-15). He compiled a 112-65 record during that stretch, including 44 wins during his tenure at Lehigh. The New York native had overseen special teams as part of his duties at South Carolina.
San Jose State names Ken Niumatalolo as coach
Sunday, Jan. 21: The final major development in the Saban domino effect was Niumatalolo’s return to the head coach ranks after the former Navy boss was tabbed as Brennan’s replacement at San Jose State. Niumatalolo won 109 games with the Midshipmen from 2007 up until his rather surprising dismissal after the 2022 campaign. He already spent the 2023 season on the West Coast working in an administrative role at UCLA and was briefly the team’s tight ends coach before taking the San Jose State job.