Many years have passed since the Alabama football pre-season coaching search between 2006 and 2007. Nick Saban landed the job and has had tremendous success, but what happened to the candidates that weren’t so lucky?
On November 26, 2006, Alabama football legend, and former athletic director, Mal Moore, fired head coach Mike Shula. Since Gene Stalling’s departure in 1996, the Crimson Tide had become familiar with continuous coaching changes. It was, once again, time to search for new beginnings.
The search began in late November and lasted until early January. Mal Moore carefully vetted and communicated with many candidates. The top five were: Steve Spurrier, Greg Schiano, David Cutcliffe, Rich Rodriguez, and Nick Saban.
Nick Saban ultimately won the job after a long and aggravating battle. Saban proclaimed for months that he was not leaving the Miami Dolphins, but after an in-house visit by Mal Moore, and a sufficient heart-to-heart from his wife, Terry, then Saban finally agreed to return to college football.
On January 4, 2007, Coach Saban was publicly introduced as the 27th head coach of the Crimson Tide, and as they say, the rest is history.
So, what happened to the other four major candidates?
Steve Spurrier: The Head Ball Coach had already made a name for himself at the Florida Gators, winning a national championship. He tried out the NFL but quickly came back to college football. He took over as the head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks in 2005. He had pretty mediocre seasons in 2005 and 2006, but definitely caught the eye of Mal Moore, because of his influential past in SEC football. Spurrier passed up the Alabama football gig to continue building South Carolina. The Gamecocks went 42-11 between 2010 and 2013. This included a memorable victory over Alabama. Spurrier resigned from South Carolina in 2015. He recently was hired as the first head coach of the Orlando Apollos.
Greg Schiano: Can we get through a coaching search without Schiano popping up? During Alabama’s search, Schiano had spent the last six years putting life into the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. In 2006, he impressively took the Knights to the Texas Bowl with a 10-2 record. Rutgers beat Bill Snyder’s Kansas State Wildcats and finished the season 11-2. Many athletic directors turned their attention to Schiano. Mal Moore spoke to him, but it’s unclear if an offer was made. Some say it was only a lengthy conversation, but Schiano stated he turned down an official offer.
He spent the next five years at Rutgers. In 2012, he accepted the head coaching job for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This was very short-lived. He was fired after two seasons. After a two-year disappearance from major football, he returned to the college scene in 2016 as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator. The Tennessee Volunteers were set to hire him as their next head coach in 2017, but that was quickly shot down by a controversial outpouring by Vol fans.
David Cutcliffe: The former Alabama alumni was putting up big numbers for Tennessee’s offense in 2006. Cutcliffe helped the Volunteers go from 5-6 to 9-4. While Mal Moore was waiting to hear back from some of the other major candidates, he began interviewing a select few coordinators. Moore liked Cutcliffe and was really intrigued by what he could bring to Alabama.
Cutcliffe was born and raised in Birmingham, had previously served as a head coach in the SEC, and was proving that he could really turn an offense completely around. Moore most likely had a greater concern with Rich Rodriguez and Nick Saban, and this allowed Cutcliffe’s opportunity to slide by. He stayed at Tennessee for one more season. After the Vols finished 10-4 and represented the SEC East, Cutcliffe flirted with Michigan, by eventually accepted the head coaching job at Duke. He still serves as the head coach at Duke, finishing seasons with mediocre records.
Rich Rodriguez: It was all set. Rich Rod would be the next head coach of the Crimson Tide. Mal Moore was pleased. The search was coming to an end. As it seemed that Rodriguez was packing his bags to come to Tuscaloosa, something went wrong. The state of Alabama stood still while West Virginia players celebrated. Rodriguez, out of nowhere, was staying in Morgantown. He did just that, for one more season.
After 2007, Rodriguez accepted the head coaching job at Michigan. It was an absolute bust. Two consecutive losing seasons, followed by a loss to Mississippi State in the 2010 Gator Bowl. Michigan quickly fired Rich Rod and Alabama fans grinned. The Crimson Tide managed to sweep by the biggest let down in college football history. Whatever happened between the Rodriguez family, their attorney, and the West Virginia officials, we are so happy that it did. Arizona gave him a second chance in 2012. His first three years were slightly better than his time at Michigan, but his final three proved it to be no fluke. Arizona fired him after the 2017 season.
The situation and mood in Tuscaloosa in the winter of 2006 was so dire, some Alabama football fans were dispirited and lacked confidence in Mal Moore. That group was almost reconciled with Moore giving the job to Joe Kines. Mal Moore did not give up on Nick Saban and for that Alabama football fans will be eternally grateful.
The majority of the coaching candidates from 2007 have not had the most successful past ten years. The Crimson Tide definitely dodged some major bullets.