Alabama football defensive coordinator search: Who will replace Pete Golding?
Pete Golding is expected to head to Ole Miss, where he will fill the same role as defensive coordinator for Lane Kiffin. Golding joined Saban's staff as co-defensive coordinator in 2018 and has served as the defensive coordinator since 2019.
Whomever Saban hires to replace Golding will be the sixth defensive coordinator since Saban's tenure in Tuscaloosa began in 2007. Tosh Lupoi, Jeremy Pruitt, Kirby Smart and Kevin Steele have been the others.
Some coached for Saban before they became his top defensive coach. Steele hadn't. but Smart had been a defensive assistant at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins under Saban as well as one season at Alabama. Pruitt and Lupoi also worked as defensive position coaches at one point for Alabama before returning to his staff to be a defensive coordinator.
Golding had not coached for Saban before he was co-defensive coordinator.
"He's done a very good job with the personnel that we have," Saban said of Golding this fall. "I just really appreciate the really good job that he's done. I think he's made really positive steps every year since he's been here. I love hiring younger guys like that and letting them grow and develop in the organization. He's certainly done a fantastic job of that."
Does Saban go the route of hiring a young defensive coordinator again? Or does he look to a veteran? And does that coach have prior experience working for Saban? Or will it be someone who hasn't worked for Saban before?
Here are a few candidates Alabama could consider for the defensive coordinator opening.
Glenn Schumann, Georgia co-defensive coordinator
He's been the co-defensive coordinator for the Bulldogs since February 2019, winning two national championships. Before that, Schumann coached Georgia's inside linebackers. But he's got no shortage of Alabama connections for this hire to make sense.
He got his bachelor's degree from UA in 2011 and master's in 2013. Working under Saban, Schumann was an undergraduate analyst (2008-11) a graduate assistant (2011-14) and director of player development/associate director of player personnel (2014-15) before he went with Kirby Smart to Athens.
Schumman is on the younger side. He was born March 29, 1990, so he doesn't turn 33 until March. He would fit under the category of Saban hiring younger guys who he can let grow and develop in the organization.
Todd Grantham, Alabama analyst
Another veteran coaching option, and he's in the building.
He worked for Saban at Michigan State as a defensive line coach and assistant head coach. Since then, Grantham has been a position coach for the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys as well as defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, Georgia Bulldogs, Louisville Cardinals, Mississippi State Bulldogs and Florida Gators.
If Saban wants to hand the reins of the defense to an experienced coordinator, it's hard to find one with a more extensive resume than Grantham. And he's just down the hall.
Jeremy Pruitt, former Tennessee coach/Giants assistant
Based on defensive coordinator experience alone, Pruitt would be a great hire. He proved as much when he was Alabama's defensive coordinator from 2016-17. He also spent time as a defensive backs coach and director of player development under Saban.
Where this gets complicated is in relation to his NCAA recruiting violations when he was coach of the Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee fired him for cause on Jan. 18, 2020, and two years later, the case is still unresolved.
During his time at Tennessee, Pruitt, his wife Casey Pruitt and other staffers are alleged by the NCAA to have committed 18 Level 1 violations from 2018-21, which are the most serious in the four-tier system.
What could get in the way of Pruitt being hired in college football is the potential of a show-cause order. The NCAA recommended five times "a hearing panel could enter a show-cause order" against Pruitt in the notice of allegations.
He has to be included here because, purely as a coach, he would make a lot of sense. But there are complicating factors that could get in the way of this reunion.
Jim Leonhard, former Wisconsin defensive coordinator
Leonhard is a former defensive back who has been on Wisconsin's staff since 2016. He was named the interim head coach when Paul Chryst was fired midway through the 2022 season. The Badgers finished 5-3 under Leonhard's leadership. He announced before the bowl game that he would not be returning to work for coach Luke Fickell, who was hired from Cincinnati.
Leonhard also served as Wisconsin's defensive coordinator during that time. This past season, the Badgers had the No. 17 scoring defense, allowing 20.23 points per game. Alabama was No. 9, giving up 18.15 points per game.
Leonhard has served in the defensive coordinator/safeties role the past two seasons. From 2017-20, he was the defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach. He joined the Wisconsin staff as defensive backs coach in 2016.
Before he became a coach, Leonhard played 10 seasons in the NFL for teams such as the Jets, Bills and Ravens.
If Saban wants to add a coordinator who's on the market who has Power Five experience, Leonhard would be a good option.
Kevin Steele, Miami defensive coordinator
If Saban wants a veteran he knows well who also knows the SEC well, Steele would be a good option.
He was Alabama's defensive coordinator in Saban's first season, and since then he's been defensive coordinator for Clemson, LSU, Auburn and now Miami. Steele was on Alabama's staff from 2013-14, too, as director of player personnel and linebackers coach. He even has interim head coaching experience at Auburn and Tennessee.
There's not much projection involved with Steele. Saban knows what he would be getting. It's just a question of whether Saban would want him back and if Steele would want to leave Miami.
Wes Neighbors, Maryland safeties coach
He doesn't have coordinator experience, but Saban is very familiar with him. If the Alabama coach thinks Neighbors has a high ceiling as an coach, he could be considered. Like Saban said about Golding, he likes hiring younger guys and letting them grow and develop.
Neighbors has been a position coach for Maryland, Louisiana, South Florida and Florida Atlantic.
Before that, Neighbors worked as a defensive graduate assistant from 2014-15 on Saban's staff and then became a defensive analyst after that. He's an Alabama graduate who played for the Crimson Tide from 2008-11.
Neighbors doesn't have proven defensive coordinator chops, but he could be worth a look for Saban.
Phil Parker, Iowa defensive coordinator
Parker might not want to leave his job running Iowa's defense, which he has held for a decade. Still, he would be worth a call if Saban wants to bring in a veteran coach.
This season, the Hawkeyes surrendered 13.31 points per game, ranked No. 2 in the country. Alabama was No. 9, giving up 18.15 points per game.
A year ago, Iowa had the No. 13 scoring defense. Alabama was No. 18 in 2021.
There's also a Saban connection for Parker. He played for Saban in college at Michigan State when Saban was defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. Then Parker became a graduate assistant for a season with the Spartans. Parker also served as Saban's defensive backs coach in 1990 at Toledo.
After leaving Toledo after 1998, Parker joined the Hawkeyes and has been there ever since then.
Would he consider leaving to reunite with Saban? Maybe not. Still, Alabama could afford to bump his salary. If Golding would have stayed through February, he would have made $1.73 million in base salary and completion benefit. Parker was reportedly set to make $1.3 million this season.
Doug Belk, Houston defensive coordinator
He checks the box as someone who has been on Saban's staff at one point. Belk served as a graduate assistant working with cornerbacks from 2014-16 under Saban. Since then, he has coached the corners at West Virginia before going to Houston where he has served as co-defensive coordinator, associate head coach and now defensive coordinator the past two seasons.
He's another younger coach with whom Saban is familiar and could have potential as a coordinator.
Nick Kelly covers Alabama football and men's basketball for The Tuscaloosa News/USA TODAY Network. Reach him via email: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly.