The long version of the short list
I have no idea if any of these people are actually candidates for the Alabama head football coaching job. I have no idea if any of them have been contacted about the job. I have no idea if any of them are even interested. This list is far from exhaustive and may not include the eventual winner of the coaching sweepstakes, but regardless, let's examine, in alphabetical order, a few names the Crimson Tide might (but in some cases absolutely shouldn't and won't) consider in the quest for its 27th coach.
Tommy Bowden, Clemson head coach
His name has been batted around occasionally in Internet banter, but I doubt it'll be him. Bowden's teams are notably inconsistent from week to week, and he's barely escaped the ax in Death Valley in recent years. The fact that his brother Terry coached Auburn in the 1990s doesn't help, either.
Norm Chow, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator
Creator of the unstoppable killing machine that is the USC offense, Chow is probably the best assistant in the nation who's never been a head coach. But that lack of experience in a top job likely would preclude his selection in a search focused on head coaches.
Sylvester Croom, Mississippi State head coach
Croom is a UA alumnus and would be the Tide's first black head coach, but his performance in Starkville, while gritty, hasn't exactly screamed "must hire." UA administrators also would be loath to pick the man who was runner-up to Mike Shula in 2003.
Jeff Fisher, Tennessee Titans head coach
The longtime NFL head man who was a yard away from a Super Bowl win in 2000 would be available if he resigned or the Titans fired him at the end of this year, and he certainly would count as a big-name hire. But if quarterback Vince Young continues to improve, Fisher's job in Nashville may be safe after all. Also relevant: Fisher has no college coaching experience.
Chan Gailey, Georgia Tech head coach
His Yellow Jackets are playing for the ACC title Saturday, and he has experience as a head man at both the college and pro levels. But Gailey's teams often seem to underachieve, and the last coach Alabama hired from Georgia Tech ended up with a brick through his office window despite a good win-loss record. The pivotal question here: Does Alabama really want the guy who used to coach the Birmingham Fire?
Jim Grobe, Wake Forest head coach
A solid coach who reversed decades-long woes at Ohio and Wake Forest, Grobe has his 10-2 Demon Deacons a win away from the ACC crown. His 12-year career record hovers at around .500, but how many people do you know who could have done better at those two schools? Grobe wouldn't be a big-name hire, but he might be one of the best coaches in the entire country.
Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt head coach
He beat Tennessee at home in 2005, almost beat Alabama at home this year, and was a blocked field goal away from a bowl last year at the SEC's perennial doormat. But Johnson would seem like an underwhelming hire given the expectations, and the last time an SEC school hired away a Vanderbilt coach, it didn't go so well.
Paul Johnson, Navy head coach
Anyone who can win two straight Division I-AA national titles and then turn Navy into a team that has averaged almost nine wins per season since 2003 despite the fact that he must recruit players to a military academy during wartime is a talented coach. Johnson's attractiveness is marred, though, by a steroids scandal brewing in Annapolis and a triple option offense largely unsuited to the SEC.
Joe Kines, Alabama interim head coach
As defensive coordinator, Kines has overseen the one aspect of the Alabama football team that has remained consistently solid throughout the vicissitudes of the Shula era. Kines has a year of head coaching experience in the SEC, he knows the Alabama players, and he sounded impressive and passionate during his brief press conference Monday. If the Tide is looking to stay in the family and Kines is willing, he would be a fine choice. But UA officials probably want someone with more time as a head coach.
Steve Kragthorpe, Tulsa head coach
He's young and has made the Golden Hurricane a contender in Conference USA, but Kragthorpe still seems relatively unproven as a head coach, especially compared to some other names on this list. He also would lack the star power that many Tide fans are seeking for this hire. Still, Alabama could do much worse.
Jim Leavitt, South Florida head coach
Alabama put out feelers for him after Dennis Franchione left in 2003, but Leavitt chose to stay with the program he built from scratch. Now that he's turned USF into a legitimate Big East contender, would he consider a new challenge? Leavitt wouldn't bring marquee star power, but he would bring a proven winning attitude at a buyout cost of only $500,000.
Steve Mariucci, former Detroit Lions head coach
His hiring would make a big splash in the headlines, but Mariucci has spent only one year at the helm of a college program, and I'm not completely sold on his widely touted reputation as an offensive genius. He probably will spend next season as either a television analyst or head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
John Mitchell, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line coach
An All-America defensive end at Alabama who coached under the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant, Mitchell has spent more than three decades in coaching, split almost evenly between the SEC and NFL, where he is in his 13th season playing an integral role in molding the Steelers' vicious D. He also would be the Tide's first black head coach. Unfortunately for Mitchell, his experience is entirely as an assistant, and UA officials are looking for a coach who has spent time in a team's top job. He's definitely someone to keep on the radar screen for the future, though.
Bobby Petrino, Louisville head coach
This would be one of the biggest splashes Alabama could make, and his $1 million buyout would make the move doable. In short order, Petrino has overseen Louisville's jump to the Big East and has put the Cardinals into position to contend consistently for the national title. There also would be the added intrigue of hiring the man for whom Auburn trustees almost ousted Tommy Tuberville in 2003. Petrino has to be near the top of Alabama's wish list.
Rush Propst, Hoover High School head coach
Laugh, but not that loudly. Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn made a smooth jump from high school to the SEC this year, and Propst has a relationship with Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson, whom he coached at the prep level. With five state championships and a possible sixth this season, Propst has accomplished almost everything he can at Hoover, and a move to the college ranks can't be far off. Realistically, his chance of getting Alabama's top job any time soon is zero, but he has to be in the mix for an assistant coaching spot at a I-A program somewhere.
Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia head coach
He would be a good hire from the edge of the "big splash" zone, but it would be awfully tough to lure Rodriguez away from his alma mater, where he has the fan support, personnel, and favorable schedule to compete regularly for a national title. His hiring isn't outside the realm of possibility, of course, but several other coaches seem likelier bets to come to the Capstone.
Nick Saban, Miami Dolphins head coach
The second biggest name on this list, the former LSU coach with a national title to his credit would seem unlikely to jump back to the SEC with a resurgent Dolphins team on his hands. You can never say never in coaching hunts, of course, but I simply don't believe Saban will end up in Tuscaloosa. He's an NFL man for now.
Greg Schiano, Rutgers head coach
The fact that Schiano has Rutgers, a century-long college football wasteland, one victory away from a BCS bowl borders on the miraculous. His hiring would make waves and send a strong signal that Alabama is serious about returning to the big time. But you get the sense that Schiano would be happy to stay with what he has built in New Jersey, and if he wants to make a jump, the vacancy at Miami (his old employer) would seem more tempting.
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina head coach
The pick of this litter, Spurrier has the coaching wherewithal to win big right away with the talent already at Alabama, and he has the reputation to attract even bigger recruits in future years. But Spurrier has expressed his desire to win an SEC title in Columbia, and he publicly has denied interest in the Alabama job. Spurrier is guaranteed to go down in history as one of college football's greatest coaches, has plenty of money, and has fiercely loyal fans at South Carolina. Perhaps the only thing that could interest him in the Tide job at this point would be the personal ego boost of finishing his career as the man who returned Alabama football to greatness. This hire would be the ultimate coup de grace, but Tide fans shouldn't be disappointed if it doesn't happen.
Jeff Tedford, California head coach
In five years, Tedford has rebuilt Cal from a 1-10 team to the Pac-10's top challenger to USC supremacy. He also has a reputation as an offensive mastermind who has vaulted tons of quarterback talent to the NFL. Tedford has yet to break through for a conference title, but the swift and sustained turnaround at Cal is quite impressive nonetheless. If he's interested, Alabama should give him serious consideration.