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Nick Saban faces critical challenge of replacing both Alabama coordinators as Bill O’Brien leaves for Patriots

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The Alabama offseason commotion continued Tuesday with news that the offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien leaves his post after two seasons to accept the OC position with the New England Patriots. Development takes place less than two weeks after the protection coordinator Pete Golding is gone for DC’s job at Ole Miss, meaning coach Nick Saban, 71, will replace both coordinators as he enters his 17th season at Crimson Tide.

This will be the fifth time in Saban’s tenure that he has fielded a team with new coordinators on either side of the ball, and development comes at a critical time for Crimson Tide. With Georgia rising from the SEC led by former Alabama defense coordinator Kirby Smart to challenge the Saban dynasty, the jury doesn’t know if a return to the top of college football is inevitable for Alabama.

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The Crimson Tide finished the season 11-2, culminating in a Sugar Bowl victory over Kansas State. It was a fine campaign by the standards of most programs, but it marked some disappointment for the No. 1 preseason team, which brought back Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young and All-American leader Will Anderson. Now those star players are gone and the coaching staff is about to be overhauled.

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It’s unwise to bet against Saban, who has won six national titles in Alabama and seven overall in his career. But the sea of ​​change that will come to Crimson Tide at the start of the 2023 season will be one of the biggest challenges for the sport’s second-oldest coach. Alabama has never gone three consecutive seasons without a national title under Saban, and the program should thrive with new faces in key positions if that remains true next year.

Past major renovations

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Crimson Tide never won a national championship under Saban in seasons when they had new coordinators on either side of the ball.

The 2007 team, Saban’s first team, finished 7–6 and won the Independence Cup with new coordinators Major Applewhite (offensive) and Kevin Steele (defense); the 2008 team finished 12-2 and lost in the Sugar Bowl with new coordinators Jim McElwain (offensive) and Kirby Smart (defense); the 2018 team finished 14-1 and lost in the College Football Playoff National Championship game with new coordinators Mike Loxley (offensive) and Tosh Lupoy (defense); the 2019 team finished 11-2 and won the Citrus Bowl with new coordinators Steve Sarkisian (offensive) and Golding (defense).

Replacing just the offensive coordinator proved a surmountable hurdle for Saban, who won the title in 2012 with Nussmeier in his first season as head coach and another in 2017 with Daboll in his first and only season as head coach. But the program never won it all with a first-year defense coordinator.

The 2018 team, with Locksley and Lupoy as coordinators in their early seasons, was elite. He beat 13 of 14 opponents in double figures in a 14–0 start. But the Crimson Tide ultimately lost to Clemson 44–16 in that season’s title game.

This group also comes with a caveat. Although this was Lupoi’s first season as lead defensive coordinator, it was his fifth season on the Alabama coaching staff, having served as second defensive coordinator the previous season. In terms of offense, it was Locksley’s third season at Saban’s headquarters, having served as joint offensive coordinator the previous year.

Coordinators under Saban

Offensive and defensive coordinators each season under Saban. Bold indicates seasons with freshman coordinators on either side of the ball.

offensive coordinator Defense coordinator Record (postseason)
2007 Major Applewhite (1st) Kevin Steele (1st) 7-6 (W Independence Cup)
2008 Jim McElwain (1st) Kirby Smart (1st) 12-2 (L Sugar Bowl)
2009 McElwain (2nd) Smart (2nd) 14-0 (WBCS Championship)
2010 McElwain (3rd) Smart (3rd place) 10-3 (W Capital One Bowl)
2011 McElwain (4th) Smart (4th) 12-1 (WBCS Championship)
2012 Doug Nussmeier (1st) Smart (5th) 13-1 (WBCS Championship)
2013 Nussmeyer (2nd) Smart (6th place) 11-2 (L Sugar Bowl)
2014 Lane Kiffin (1st) Smart (7th place) 12-2 (L CFP, semi-finals)
2015 Kiffin (2nd) Smart (8th) 14-1 (W CFP Championship)
2016 Kevin (3rd) Jeremy Pruitt (1st) 14-1 (L CFP title)
2017 Brian Daball (1st) Pruitt (2nd) 13-1 (W CFP Championship)
2018 Mike Locklesley (1st) Stone Magnifier (1st) 14-1 (L in CFP title game)
2019 Steve Sargsyan (1st) Pete Golding (1st) 11-2 (Z Citrus bowl)
2020 Sargsyan (2nd) Golding (2nd) 13-0 (W CFP Championship)
2021 Bill O’Brien (1st) Golding (3rd) 13-2 (L CFP title)
2022 O’Brien (2nd) Golding (4th) 11-2 (W Sugar Bowl)

Opening Candidates

Loxley and Lupoy’s domestic promotion in the 2018 season was evident for Saban following the program’s 2017 national title. But the list of domestic candidates is less attractive this time around after consecutive seasons without a title. BamaOnLine’s preliminary hot board There is only one internal candidate listed for the OC position, and that is offensive analyst Derek Dooley.

Regarding the opening of the defense coordinator, defense analyst Todd Grantham appeared on BamaOnLine. preliminary hot board, as did former defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Hiring Pruitt would make sense for Saban, as Pruitt has worked under Saban for eight years in various roles on and off the field for two spells in the past. But there may be hurdles to overcome before reuniting with Pruitt becomes practical, whose Tennessee program was accused of 18 NCAA Level I violations.

Saban should have no problem getting talented trainers to work for him, but he may have to go beyond his current staff or previous trainer tree to hire one or both coordinators, and that will only add to the learning curve for everyone in the coming months. .

The situation with the quarterback

Alabama’s next offensive coordinator will be Saban’s ninth in tenure and sixth in the program’s past eight seasons. O’Brien retires after two seasons as the first offensive coordinator to serve more than one season under Saban without winning a national title.

Adding to the significance of hiring an offensive coordinator for Saban is the program’s uncertainty about a quarterback entering the 2023 season after Young’s departure in the NFL Draft. After backing Mack Jones as the Crimson Tide won the 2020 national championship, Young stepped in and became Alabama’s star over the last two seasons.

Ultimately, he will become one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the program without ever winning a national title, and it will not be easy to replace him. Young’s backup, Jalen Milro, is set to return for his second season in the redshirt after showing a mix of promise and unsettling decisions with major moves against Arkansas and Texas A&M amid Young’s injury in the 2022 season.

Former five-star prospect Ty Simpson could also fill the position after playing in four games during his true rookie season in 2022. spring semester. Preparing a quarterback will be a critical duty for whoever Saban names to replace O’Brien.


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