Charles Huff taking Nick Saban's influence with him to become Marshall's head coach

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

Charles Huff is not Nick Saban, he knows that and will not pretend to be him. He also knows he is carrying a great deal of his influences to Marshall.

Huff left Alabama after two years as running backs coach to take the head coaching job at Marshall, a jump several years in the making for Huff.

Huff discussed with The Tuscaloosa News how his time at UA helped polish him as a head-coaching candidate and also put him in the perfect position to get the Marshall job in Saban’s native West Virginia.

“He called the governor, the house of representatives, the AD, the president, guys on the board, gave me a rundown about the history, pitfalls, what I need to be prepared for,” Huff said of Saban. “He said, ‘I want you to get this job. I don’t want to lose you, but I want you to chase your dreams.’”

Running backs coach Charles Huff before the Alabama vs. Mississippi State game at Davis Wade Stadium on the MSU campus in Starkville, Ms., on Saturday November 16, 2019.

In many ways, UA gave Huff the platform to chase those dreams. Huff was a coach on the rise before his time at UA, taking prominent roles on both James Franklin’s staff at Penn State and Joe Moorhead’s staff in his first season as Mississippi State’s head coach, roles that earned him some head-coaching consideration before coming to UA. The jump from Starkville to Tuscaloosa was based on the hope to learn up-close and personal how UA sustains its excellence.

“Whatever profession you’re in, there’s a level of excellence you chase, there’s a standard somewhere you model everything after; Alabama is that model of excellence for college football,” Huff said. “The ability to learn at that level — it was tough to leave, because Joe and I had a great relationship, a great relationship with the players and the community in Starkville — when you have a chance to do it at the highest level, for me, it was a great opportunity.”

He quickly found a companion in Najee Harris, who experienced their quick rises hand in hand. In two years, Huff went from running backs coach to head coach while Harris ran for a combined 2,690 yards and 39 touchdowns.

“The beauty of it was, we were both kind of looking for the same thing. We were both looking to improve, obviously in different lanes, but we were both looking to improve,” Huff said. “He was willing and open to learn from me as a running backs coach and I was willing to learn from Coach Saban from a program standpoint. We were both learning and working through situations together.”

Of the many things Huff learned from Saban, the one he is most certain to take with him to Marshall, is Saban’s consistency in approach. Huff saw Saban’s approach never change in victory or defeat.

That point was never more clear than when the coaching staff was back in the office right after winning the national championship, discussing recruiting the class of 2022.

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“You see other coaches do it wrong. You don’t know that they’re doing it wrong, but you see other coaches change when they win games or change when they lose, you see other coaches change when recruiting doesn’t go the right way or change when it does go the right way,” Huff said. "At the time you don’t know, you think it’s the ebbs and flows of being a coach, but then you work with Coach Saban and you think, ‘Wow, we just won the national championship and he’s got the same demeanor as he did when we were 10-2 a year ago.’ You realize that’s the difference.”

Huff gained more insight on that approach because, as he put it, “(Saban)’s actually a nice guy. A lot of people don’t think he is, but he’s a nice guy.”

Huff also said Saban repeatedly tells his assistants he is there to help them, all it takes is approaching him at the right time. Huff would find those moments when a breath could be taken and ask Saban why he does some things the way he does them.

Huff gained a wealth of experience and a head-coaching job from his Alabama tenure, but there is the little matter of success while at UA that comes with a spot on Saban’s staff. While also successful as the latter, Saban is running a football program, not a coaching clinic, and Huff is confident Saban will hire a replacement able to continue the success.

On Saturday, Yahoo’s Pete Thamel reported that replacement was likely to be North Carolina’s Robert Gillespie.

“He hires people that fit his demeanor and fit his organization, he doesn’t just hire a coach,” Huff said. “He does a very good job of making sure you fit his organization. There’s a lot of good coaches out there that don’t fit everyone’s organization and everyone’s expectations, and Coach Saban does a good job of making sure the people he hires fit him.”

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson