Alabama Football: Nick Saban and a revamp like December 2013


There are points, often unseen beforehand, when ‘things’ pivot, after which they are substantially changed. December 2022 may be one of those pivot points for the Alabama Football program.

The Alabama Crimson Tide has had many pivots in its history. One notable one happened in 1982. As told by multiple Alabama football insiders, during the fall of 1982, Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant received a no from an in-state recruit he highly valued. Going back to the 1960s, Bryant had been able to close any in-state player he wanted badly. Ben Tamburello said no, and chose Auburn. Bryant, having contemplated retirement for months, knew it was time to step down.

No argument is being made that Nick Saban is even near such a point in his coaching life. But Alabama and college football’s greatest coach may be at a pivot point. If so, hopefully, Saban realizes it.

As Crimson Tide fans, few of us understand Nick Saban’s complicated defense well enough to fairly critique it. But we can easily see results. Going back to January 2019, too many times results have shown the once-vaunted Alabama football defense has slipped.

Twice Alabama has not been able to win a National Championship game when it struggled to stop the other team. Other losses have happened for the same reason. It is unfair and simplistic to blame every loss on a Crimson Tide defense. At times, the Alabama offense has also failed to be enough.

Countering these concerns are some facts. Since losing to Clemson in the 2018 National Championship game, Alabama has won a National Championship and two SEC Championships. With a record in the last four seasons of 47-6, the sky over Tuscaloosa is not falling.

Still, a discomforting feeling cannot be ignored. The Alabama football defense has ceased to be dominating. Sure, the game has changed, with it now being harder than ever to shut down offenses. An unanswered question is whether some facets of the game have changed so significantly, that components of Nick Saban’s complex defense cannot be adapted for today’s offense.

This post makes no attempt to answer the question. There is simply too much those outside the Crimson Tide program cannot know.

An Alabama Football Redo

What can be suggested is maybe December 2022 is comparable to December 2013. In 2013, before he was hired as an assistant, Lane Kiffin was brought to Tuscaloosa to take a hard look at the Crimson Tide offense.

A couple of years ago, writing for ESPN, Chris Low and Alex Scarborough revisited what happened that offseason. Lane Kiffin described to them what Saban then thought of the Crimson Tide offense.

"(Lane said) I remember him (Saban) saying, ‘I feel like our offense is a Lamborghini, but it’s headed off a cliff,’ meaning we’ve got these great players, but are behind the times in what we’re doing. So we needed to change directions."

Maybe now is the time for the same ‘open-eyed’ look Kiffin provided to be replicated by another outsider analyzing Nick Saban’s defense. Let’s be clear, whatever weaknesses Pete Golding has, and perhaps they are many, he is running Nick Saban’s defense in the way Saban wants it run.

So risking heresy, let’s consider, maybe the problem is that both Golding and Saban are wrong. Not across the board, wholesale wrong, but with scheme problems in the margins that can cause failures affecting the outcomes of close games. Problems serious enough that championships have become harder to achieve.

Crimson Tide defense must be better in 2023. dark. Next

If any of the above applies to Nick Saban’s perspectives, who should he bring in to be a defensive Kiffin? That is a question, also with no sure answer.