Celebrate Alabama’s 17th national championship with a commemorative newspaper, poster or plaque from The Tuscaloosa News! Click here for ordering information.
In many ways, the 2017 season was a tumultuous one for Alabama, and it wasn’t just limited to on-the-field adversity and the unprecedented injuries the Crimson Tide had to withstand. It was in the locker room and coaches’ offices too. Of course, those misfortunes were overcome and UA rebounded and got healthy, ending in a national championship (Nick Saban’s fifth at UA). Think of it this way: Only one coach has been with Saban (as an on-the-field coach) to hoist the trophy five times: Burton Burns. That puts into context how much coaching turnover there’s been on a consistent basis under Saban.
That’s a natural lead-in to the current situation in Tuscaloosa: the coaching staff turnover. Alabama claimed a national title just a little more than a week ago, so on the surface it looks odd that coaching turnover started immediately after the game. It was reported before the game that Derrick Ansley was leaving the program. He eventually accepted a position with the Oakland Raiders after it was initially reported by multiple outlets that we was going to Colorado State to be the defensive coordinator.
It was Jeremy Pruitt’s time to rise up the coaching ranks, and he and Saban knew it. He interviewed with Mississippi State and eventually Tennessee tapped him to be the next head coach. We reported the news of Alabama hiring Pete Golding. And that’s just the changes on defense thus far. And the offseason isn’t over yet, meaning I expect more changes or new faces added to the defensive coaching staff before spring practice begins.
On offense, Brian Daboll leaves to head back to his home in Western New York. Alabama was not caught off guard or surprised by this decision. In fact, it was kind of expected. There will be much speculation about this decision and why a coach with the caliber of offensive weapons returning (fresh off a national title) would depart. The perception will be that Saban’s task-master style was too much for him to deal with (see the sideline chewing during the Clemson game). I don’t think that had much to do with it all.
For an assistant coach, the NFL lifestyle is more desirable by some due to not having to recruit. There’s also the pull of going home that must be factored in to Daboll’s decision. However, there was some frustration on Daboll’s part on personnel matters, multiple sources told The Tuscaloosa News. These weren’t all that contentious, but they were frustrating for an offensive coordinator being asked to put his best offense on the field. Daboll wanted to play freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa sooner than he has given the green light to do so. That doesn’t mean that Daboll didn’t like or want to play Jalen Hurts too. That’s not accurate at all. It’s just that Daboll saw what Tagovailoa was doing in practice against the best defense in the country and wanted to give him a chance once the offense started slumping in November.
Potential offensive coordinators
So where does Alabama turn now for an OC? One hire might already be in the building in Mike Locksley. Locksley has already had Alabama players give their support on social media. But if we’ve learned anything from Saban during his tenure at Alabama, it’s that he doesn’t always make the most obvious hire (Applewhite, McElwain, Nussmeier, Kiffin, Daboll). In fact, Locksley was in negotiations with Florida State to be its offensive coordinator once the season ended. Sources conveyed that the talks broke down or at the very least have stalled. Multiple sources said that Locksley has intimated in the past that he was assured he would have a good chance to be the offensive coordinator should Daboll leave.
Chip Long is also a name that is bouncing around right now, and there is a lot of heat behind his name. You can read his bio here. If Alabama could convince Locksley to stay if Long is hired, that would be a strong move, but I’m not sure what the chances are of that, though.
Another popular name is Jim McElwain, given his connection with both Saban/Alabama. McElwain remains a very popular figure in Tuscaloosa, and he has several friends here. Multiple sources confirmed that he’s had recent conversation(s) with Saban. Of the three, I’d say McElwain is the least likely candidate, but, again, Saban oftentimes surprises. It also doesn’t mean the hire will come from any of the three candidates.
[Updated at 7:25 p.m.] Former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze was in Tuscaloosa today and was in the football building, The Tuscaloosa News has learned. Saban has always had a healthy respect for Freeze, who gave Alabama fits with his offense. Freeze was given a head coach restriction and two-game suspension but only if he were to become a head coach. He would face no restrictions as an assistant coach.
Coaching turnover effects
I recently asked Saban if constantly losing coaches every single year has a cumulative effect on his program. He responded that actually it excites him to bring new energy/ideas into the program. “I think immediately there is some effect and impact when you have change, but it also creates an opportunity to bring in new enthusiasm, new ideas, new people. You just have to keep constantly trying to make sure that the people that you’re hiring are quality people who are going to add something in a positive way to the organization.”
So why all the change this year? R-E-C-R-U-I-T-I-N-G. Saban sees an increasingly tough SEC landscape in which he has to recruit against Fisher/Smart/Muschamp/Pruitt/Etc., and he wasn’t content to stand pat. So, as weird as it looks from the outside, Saban re-evaluated his entire staff after the national title (in fact, he’d been doing it for most of the season). His ability to change when he sees a shift coming in college football or the SEC is part of his greatness.
Think about it: How easy is it for a 66-year-old football coach to makes changes after he just walked off the field holding the trophy? The man is never content. He saw the HUNH changing the game too and made changes to his offense to take advantage of that and changed the type of athlete on defense he recruited to help combat it. Saban has already added former Texas A&M coach Jeff Banks, who has a reputation as a great recruiter. He’s rumored to be the special teams coach. Locksley is also a good recruiter. Holding onto Tosh Lupoi has been one of the main goals of the offseason, as he is one of the best recruiters in the country. Outside of the OC hire, other names that could added to the staff include Chris Weinke, Terry Joseph (who has already been to Tuscaloosa) or Doug Belk.