Nick Saban’s only coaching staff at Alabama that had less experience with the program, on average, than the Crimson Tide’s 2019 coaching staff was Saban’s first staff in Tuscaloosa in 2007, when every position coach and coordinator was hired by the school during the previous offseason and the nine assistants combined for just two years of previous experience at Alabama earlier in their careers.
That’s not to say the Crimson Tide will go 7-6 this season — or anywhere close to it — like it did in Saban’s first season with the school, but an examination of the institutional experience of Alabama’s assistants shows the cost of doing business for a program that has won five of the last 10 national championships.
In the last three seasons, Alabama hired 20 assistant coaches from outside the program (five of whom had previous experience working at Alabama), while Saban hired just 15 new assistants from outside the program in the eight seasons from 2008 to 2015 (four of whom had previous experience at Alabama).
Gone are the days of long-tenured Crimson Tide assistants like Burton Burns (2007-17), Kirby Smart (2007-15), Bobby Williams (2008-15) and Jeremy Pruitt (2007-12; 2016-17).
The following scatter plot shows the experience of each of Saban’s coaching staffs from 2007 to 2019. We exclusively analyzed Alabama’s on-field assistant coaches (schools could have 10 assistants starting in 2018 and nine before that), so analysts, grad assistants and positions relating to quality control were not counted.
The blue dots measure the continuity of the coaching staff by showing the average consecutive years of experience that assistant coaches have had at the school (e.g. former Alabama offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jim McElwain entered the 2011 season having spent the previous three seasons with the school, so he contributed three years of consecutive experience in 2011).
The orange dots show the average total years of experience that assistant coaches had at Alabama (e.g. former Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt returned to Tuscaloosa in 2016 after spending two years at Georgia, so even though he didn’t contribute any “consecutive years of experience” that season, he had spent six previous seasons at Alabama, including three as the director of program development, that counted towards “total years of experience”).
For example, Alabama’s assistant coaches in 2014 had spent the last 2.8 seasons at Alabama in some capacity, on average, while having spent an average of four total seasons with the program previously in their careers, but not necessarily consecutively.
Just three of Saban’s 10 assistant coaches this season were on staff last season — defensive coordinator/outside linebackers coach Pete Golding, special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Jeff Banks and cornerbacks coach Karl Scott. Each joined Alabama’s staff prior to last season.
This season also marks the return of two assistant coaches who previously worked for the program this decade — outside linebackers coach Sal Sunseri (three years of experience at Bama) and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian (one year of experience at Bama).
The revolving door of assistant coaches at Alabama could be viewed as a double-edged sword.
It can lead to an influx of new ideas, it can combat complacency, and (presumably) it leads to motivated assistant coaches who hope to land a head coaching or coordinator position in the near future.
Or, the track record of former Saban assistants getting those high-profile jobs can lead to issues with their focus and preparation, especially when the calendar reaches the coaching carousel, as Saban hinted to the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum in July as having happened last season.
— Josh Bean (@jbeanpoll) July 17, 2019
Mike Locksley, Alabama’s offensive coordinator last season, is now the head coach at Maryland. Former associate head coach/quarterbacks coach Dan Enos is now the OC at Miami (FL) and former co-OC/wide receivers coach Josh Gattis took a job as Michigan’s offensive coordinator.
This was certainly not Saban’s first offseason at Alabama where he’s had assistants hired away for prominent coordinator or head coaching positions.
Here’s a chart showing which seasons at Alabama featured a new coach/coordinator for each position group/side of the ball from the prior season. An “X” represents the first year of a new coach in that role.
Note: Some roles are often combined, so the same coach might handle tight ends and special teams, or be a defensive coordinator who’s also the position coach for inside linebackers.
|Season||OC/QBs||RBs||WRs||TEs||OL||DC||DL||Outside LBs||Inside LBs||CBs||Safeties||Special Teams|
But where is Saban finding these talented assistants?
Eleven of the 44 assistant coach hires Saban has been responsible for since arriving in Tuscaloosa have been lured away from the NFL, meaning that a quarter of Saban’s staff has come from the pro game over the last 13 years.
Current Alabama assistants Steve Sarkisian and Kyle Flood worked for the Atlanta Falcons for the last two seasons. Former offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Brian Daboll came from the New England Patriots. Kirby Smart coached Miami’s safeties for Saban during his forgettable stint with the Dolphins.
The list goes on — just like you’re about to see on the colorful pie chart conveniently located a couple of sentences below.
If a coach was hired by Alabama, left for another school, then was later re-hired by Saban, then both of his hires were counted in our study to reflect each of his previous jobs and employers before joining the Crimson Tide.
Nine hires were from another SEC school and eight came from the ACC.
The complete breakdown is below.
If we’ve learned anything from the Saban era at Alabama, it’s that the faces on the sideline will change, but the success of the program largely won’t. From 2008 to 2018, Alabama averaged 12.6 wins, 1.3 losses and 0.6 national championship game appearances per season.
The Crimson Tide are recruiting and winning at as high of a level as any program in the country, and Saban and strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran have been two key constants for the last 12 seasons.
Alabama still has one more season with one of the two best quarterbacks in the sport and the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner in wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, who picked up a first down or scored a touchdown on 76 percent of his receptions last season. As long as Saban’s fielding that talented of a roster, Alabama should stay at the forefront of the national title conversation despite the revolving door that is the Tide’s coaching staff.