Alabama Football: Continuity, change and Crimson Tide Offensive Coordinators

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

With Steve Sarkisian remaining for the 2020 season, it is a good time to look back at the Alabama football Offensive Coordinators under Nick Saban.

It remains to be seen who the Colorado Buffaloes will hire as Head Coach. It will not be Alabama football, Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks coach, Steve Sarkisian. Sarkisian removed his name from consideration and is expected to be handsomely rewarded by the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Being an Alabama football offensive coordinator has been a pretty good gig under Nick Saban. Saban has had seven in what will become his 14th season leading the Crimson Tide. Two of the seven (Major Applewhite and Jim McElwain) used their Alabama football experience to become college football head coaches. A third, Lane Kiffin, used his time under Saban for a return to head coaching.

A fourth, Mike Locksley also turned a career around in Tuscaloosa, leading to the head coaching position at Maryland. There is ample evidence Steve Sarkisian has enhanced his career through two opportunities afforded him by Nick Saban.

Brian Daboll and Doug Nussmeier did not receive the same kind of career boost into head coaching positions. The OC pair can boast about National Championship pedigrees from the 2012 and 2017 Alabama Crimson Tide Championships.

Sustainability of Championship potential despite frequent assistant coach turnover is debatable. Certainly too much turnover can harm recruiting. If change among position coaches may be overcome, continuity of Offensive and Defensive Coordinators has long been valued.

The explosion of salary money in college football has fundamentally changed assistant coach tenures. Some deals being offered are too much to pass up.

Most fans believe frequent staff changes hamper more than recruiting. At many schools, when the Coordinator changes, so do philosophy, formations, terminology and play-calling. It takes time for rosters to learn new systems. Nick Saban leap-frogs past such potential problems. His Coordinators work inside his Alabama football system of play. Terminology is consistent for the players. Plays and formations are adjusted and added, but not to the level of a new offense and particularly not a new defense.

Even with Saban carefully managing change, it appears continuity is beneficial. Setting aside Saban’s first Tide season in 2007, the next six seasons had two OCs and the same core offense with few changes. The result was three National Championships.

College football changed and Nick Saban realized the Tide must change its offense. With Saban’s blessing, Lane Kiffin made significant changes in the Tide offense. In the three seasons after Kiffin, the offense was adapted three more times by three more OCs. In the most recent six-year period, the Tide had four OCs and two National Championships.

Is there a correlation between more OCs in the second period and fewer Nattys? There are too many variables to provide a clear answer. A fair supposition is Steve Sarkisian remaining in Tuscaloosa for the 2020 season enhances Championship probability.

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Nick Saban’s 14th Alabama football team returns to the practice field in a few weeks. In the 14 seasons, Nick will have had eight starting quarterbacks, only one more than his seven Offensive Coordinators.