Facing New Coordinators Adds To Preparations

Famed Alabama Coach Paul Bryant was known primarily for winning games and winning championships. But he was also known as having former players and/or assistant coaches become head football coaches. All told about half a hundred Bryant men become head coaches in college or the NFL.

Over 30 years after Bryant’s death, we can still look to former Alabama defensive back Mike Riley who is head coach at Nebraska and former Tide assistant coach Bruce Arians the head coach of the National Football League’s Arizona Cardinals as remaining members of the “Bear’s Boys” coaching club.

Several years after one of those Bryant associates had established himself as a head coach and was preparing to play against Bryant’s Crimson Tide squad, the erstwhile student said, “Everything I know about football, I learned from Coach Bryant.” Following the drubbing his team received from Bama, the losing coach was asked about his pre-game statement. He clarified it: “I didn’t say he taught me everything he knew.”

Alabama Coach Nick Saban also has quite a coaching tree developing as men work for him and then move on in their coaching careers. That will be seen this year as Saban and Bama face off against some teams in which former Saban men are on the other side.

Although there was just one change in Southeastern Conference head coaches this year (former Saban assistant Will Muschamp was fired at Florida and replaced by former Saban offensive coordinator Jim McElwain), there are quite a few new coordinators in the SEC.

In fact, including the two new coordinators who accompanied McElwain to Florida – they were former Tide offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and former Bama staffer Geoff Collins as defensive coordinator – there were 14 changes in coordinators at the 12 SEC schools.

Only Alabama (where Lane Kiffin is offensive coordinator and Kirby Smart defensive coordinator) and Ole Miss avoided any change in coordinators.

Saban was asked about the challenge of preparing in a league in which there were so many changes at coordinator positions in the conference. He said, “Part of our off-season study is always to look at new offensive and defensive coordinators and try to figure out how much they will impact their [new] program. That’s always challenging.

“But in the case of defensive coordinators, especially with [offensive-minded head coaches], you can pretty much assume that they’re going to do their whoe scheme, and you’re going to see a lot of the same things.”

Barring an unlikely regular season in which Alabama and Florida make it to the SEC Championship Game, Saban will not be facing off against the Gators and their three chief strategists who were his former assistants. Nor does the Tide meet Kentucky which has a new offensive coordinator (Shannon Dawson), Missouri which has a new defensive coordinator (Barry Odom), South Carolina which has added Jon Hoke as co-defensive coordinator with former Alabama player Lorenzo Ward, or Vanderbilt which has a new offensive coordinator in Andy Ludwig and where Commodores Head Coach Derek Mason is going to handle the defense.

There are various reasons for changes in coordinators. A head coach may have made a terrible hire and needs to correct it by making another hire, such as the case at Auburn where Gus Malzahn fired Ellis Johnson and hired Will Muschamp, who had been fired as Florida’s head coach. Malzahn raised some eyebrows at SEC Media Days when he said he believes Muschamp is the best defensive mind in all of football, an opinion likely shared by no one save, perhaps, Muschamp.

Auburn certainly needs defensive help. Last year the Tigers were ninth in the league in total defense and 10th in scoring defense. Muschamp’s Gators were fifth in total defense, seventh in scoring defense.

Sometimes a change in coordinators is because a man has done such a good job that he is hired away to another school, often moving from assistant coach to coordinator. That happened this year in a way that affected Alabama as Kevin Steele, who was inside linebackers coach for the Tide, went to LSU as defensive coordinator.

The opening at LSU was created when John Chavis, the highly regarded defensive coordinator for many years at Tennessee before going to LSU, left for Texas A&M, presumably because of a contract dispute at LSU. The Aggies certainly needed a change after finishing 2014 last in the SEC in total defense and 11th in scoring defense.

Obviously, Saban has an idea of what to expect from Steele and he has prepared for many years against Chavis.

Other 2015 Alabama opponents that have new coordinators are:

At Arkansas, Dan Enos has replaced Jim Chaney as offensive coordinator.

At Georgia, new offensive coordinator is Brian Schottenheimer, replacing Mike Bobo (who replaced McElwain as head coach at Colorado State).

Manny Diaz has returned to Mississippi State as defensive coordinator, replacing Geoff Collins.

At Tennessee, Mike DeBord has replaced Mike Bajakian as offensive coordinator.


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