TideSports College Football Preview

There are three types of assistant coaches with the Alabama football program this season. One group is coaches who are in their first year with the program. The second group is coaches who return to the program, but take on new roles. The third group is coaches who are returning for 2018 in the same position as 2017.

Offensive line coach Brent Key is the only coach in the third group.

The Crimson Tide staff includes six new assistants and three assistants who are back for this season in new positions. That includes both offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi, who were position coaches last season.

The coaching staff may have undergone an overhaul, but that doesn’t mean there will be wholesale changes to the final product.

“The transition that we’ve had with these guys has been pretty painless because we really didn’t change offenses, we really didn’t change defenses,” coach Nick Saban said. “We didn’t change terminology for the players. So we have an Alabama defense and we have an Alabama offense. It was an Alabama defense and an Alabama offense last year. Just because we change the people that implement those things doesn’t mean that we’re going to change everything about it.”

Locksley and Lupoi have both risen through the ranks of Alabama’s program, arriving as analysts before proving themselves as assistant coaches. Locksley is in his third year in Tuscaloosa, while Lupoi is in his fifth.

Locksley has experience calling plays before as offensive coordinator at Illinois and Maryland. He also spent three seasons as head coach at New Mexico.

“I came in under Lane (Kiffin) and had a chance to see how things worked there,” Locksley said. “I had a chance to be with Brian (Daboll) last season. Then all the great coaches that have been around the program the last two years that I’ve been here, it’s hard to say one or two things that I’ve learned from them. I know the biggest thing that I’ve seen thus far is we have a very talented team and that’s what makes it special to coach at a place like Alabama.”

Lupoi has never called plays before, though he has bided his time for this opportunity and turned down the chance to be a defensive coordinator elsewhere. He has experience coaching the defensive line and linebackers, but has spent time working with Saban this offseason to improve his knowledge of coverages and defensive back play.

Beyond that, he’ll now be tasked with calculating down, distance and situation to make decisions for the defense. That’s a new challenge for him.

“You have to process the information quicker,” Lupoi said. “As an assistant, I’ve had some opportunities in the past where I might be able to do some play-calling. It’s helped to do it full time. You have to do it as fast as possible to get the guys in the best possible position. Like anything, through repetition you get a little more confident and better.”

The new coordinators will have help, obviously. The addition of a tenth on-field assistant means Locksley can work full-time as an offensive coordinator while new addition Dan Enos works as quarterbacks coach. Lupoi can lean on Saban, but also on co-defensive coordinator Pete Golding. He called plays for UT-San Antonio for the last two seasons.

Special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Jeff Banks, defensive backs coach Karl Scott, wide receivers coach Josh Gattis and defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski are also new to the staff. Joe Pannunzio moved to running backs coach after spending last year as tight ends coach.

All those changes may have paid off in other areas. The Crimson Tide’s recruiting rankings slipped in 2018 to No. 7 on national signing day after competing for the No. 1 spot nearly every year for the last decade. The early returns for the future look good; Alabama’s 2019 class is ranked second in the 247Sports Composite rankings and could pass Georgia for the top spot with room to improve as it adds more commitments.

“I think this is also one of the better recruiting staffs that we’ve had, and I think that’s going to be beneficial for us in the future as well,” Saban said this summer.

Reach Ben Jones at ben@tidesports.com or 205-722-0196.

TideSports College Football Preview