Ideal outcome for Alabama football is Bill O'Brien, Bryce Young reaching NFL together | Toppmeyer

Blake Toppmeyer

Bill O’Brien’s mind went to schematics as Alabama football’s first-year offensive coordinator considered how college football changed while he spent seven seasons in the NFL before re-entering the college ranks.

“What I’ve seen is just really the multiplicity on defense,” O’Brien said Sunday, adding that an offense now must be prepared to face defenses aligned in base, nickel or dime.

Spoken like a football coach, but the more pressing evolution is that O’Brien now coaches a million-dollar college quarterback, thanks to a revolutionary rule change this year that allows college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said earlier this summer that Crimson Tide starting quarterback Bryce Young is set to make nearly a million bucks off endorsement deals.

O’Brien has coached wealthy and successful quarterbacks in the NFL. He was Tom Brady’s offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots and coached Deshaun Watson with the Houston Texans.

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How well O’Brien stewards Young as he balances endorsement deals and football will be the defining element of whether his first season on Saban’s staff is a success.

“He’s a very bright young man,” O’Brien said in an assessment of Young. “He works really hard. He’s a really good teammate, and he cares about the team.”

O’Brien labeled himself a “rookie coach” during his Sunday remarks, showing deference to Saban. That felt like over-the-top humility.

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Saban is growing accustomed to hiring fired head coaches as his offensive coordinator – Lane Kiffin, Mike Locksley and Steve Sarkisian were among the coordinators who preceded O’Brien – but O’Brien, 51, enters the job with the most polished résumé.

Less than two years ago, O’Brien’s Texans played in the AFC Championship, where they squandered a 10-0 lead in a loss to Kansas City that ended his best season in seven years at Houston. In a failed experiment that fast-tracked his ouster, O'Brien doubled as the organization’s general manager in his last season.

The Texans had five winning seasons and won the AFC South four times during O’Brien’s tenure. That came after O’Brien earned acclaim by how he directed Penn State throughout two winning seasons amid challenging circumstances after he replaced Joe Paterno in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

By comparison, O’Brien’s task at Alabama should be a breeze.

Serving as Saban’s offensive coordinator has emerged as the top assistant job in college football. Kiffin, Locksley and Sarkisian parlayed their success into Power 5 head coaching jobs. Brian Daboll turned one season on the job into an NFL offensive coordinator offer.

Kiffin and Sarkisian, especially, earned praise for their play-calling at Alabama, but more important to Alabama’s prolonged offensive success has been its quarterback production.

Kiffin kept Alabama’s offense chugging with three different quarterbacks – Blake Sims, Jake Coker and Jalen Hurts – before Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones came along to rewrite Alabama’s record books.

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While any talk of O’Brien’s history with quarterbacks must include Brady and Watson, more relevant to this job is what he did at Penn State. The Nittany Lions’ Matthew McGloin and Christian Hackenberg each posted the best season of their college careers while playing for O’Brien.

A good showing from Young and Alabama's offense in 2021 could catapult O'Brien back to the NFL before he reaches the end of his Alabama contract. He received a two-year deal worth $1.1 million annually.

An ideal outcome for Alabama would be O’Brien and Young heading for the NFL together, following the 2022 season.

That would be a sign that they flourished alongside each other for two seasons.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.