Will Alabama Lose Assistant Coaches?

A trend – an unfortunate trend, most would say – in college football in recent years has been head football coaches losing their jobs in mid-season. Generally speaking, the vacancies have been created by athletics directors, who fire the head men in the midst of poor seasons. There have been several this year.

With the record that Nick Saban has forged at Alabama, it is understandable that a school looking for a head coach might look to the Saban coaching tree.

The motivation to get a Saban/Alabama man probably has been helped by the excellent job that former Crimson Tide Offensive Coordinator Jim McElwain has done at Florida this year, taking a Gators team that was a train wreck under Will Muschamp and turning it into a Southeastern Conference championship contender.

Last weekend, Miami fired Al Golden after the Hurricanes lost a home game by 58-0 to Clemson. Not far from South Florida, George O’Leary announced his retirement at CFU. Earlier this year Steve Spurrier quit on his South Carolina Gamecocks in mid-season. Coaches have been fired at Southern Cal (though Steve Sarkisan was dismissed for behavior issues, not his record), Illinois (Tim Beckman was fired for alleged mistreatment of players days before the start of the season), Maryland, and North Texas.

Some Alabama assistants have been mentioned for some of the openings. Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin – who ironically was fired in mid-season at Southern Cal in 2013 – and offensive line coach Mario Cristobal – who was a star player and an assistant coach at Miami, and was head coach at Florida International for six years – have been thrown out as possible candidates for the Hurricanes.

Kirby Smart, Bama’s defensive coordinator, has seemed reluctant to pursue head coaching jobs, but his name was one of the first to be raised for the opening at South Carolina.

Saban has been on record for years as encouraging his assistants to take jobs if those jobs are promotions. Last year he lost inside linebackers coach Kevin Steele, who went to LSU as defensive coordinator, and Lance Thompson, who made a lateral move to Auburn as outside linebackers coach.

Saban was asked how he handles the situation when his assistants are being mentioned for other jobs.

“First of all,” he said, “I think every guy that works here does a good job because he's motivated to try to get to the next opportunity.

“I think the quality of the character that we have in the coaches that we have here -- they really do put the team first. They care about the players, and I don't think they would sacrifice doing a good job for their players or the program in terms of the pride they have in their performance because they were more focused on something else.

“I went through this when I went to Michigan State. We had four games left, maybe, with the Cleveland Browns. I took the job, but I totally focused on what we had to do. We had the best defense in the NFL. We won a playoff game, and lost in the second round.

“Jim McElwain, when he took the job at Colorado State, he came back and coached the national championship game and we won. I never questioned his focus or loyalty in terms of what his job was and what he was doing.

“I'm happy for our coaches to be recognized, and have opportunities. When the time comes, I'll do everything I can to help them and I think they all know that. But at the same time, their job and their responsibility right now is to stay focused on our team and what we're doing. I think they all understand that. How we finish will probably affect their opportunities a little bit.”

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