Bill Oliver was one of the nation’s best known assistant coaches and also had stints as a head coach at Chattanooga and Auburn, and was particularly known as a defensive coordinator. Today he is retired and living on Lake Martin and keeps a close eye on college football, particularly Alabama football where he played and had was an exceptional defensive mind.
The matchup of Alabama vs. Clemson in Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game is particularly intriguing to him. Although he was Bama’s secondary coach for national championshjips under Paul Bryant and Gene Stallings, he was also part of a successful run at Clemson in four years as defensive coordinator.
He left Clemson to return to the Crimson Tide with Stallings in 1990. In the four years at Clemson the Tigers were particularly successful in bowl games with wins over Stanford, Penn State, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.
Oliver got an up-close look at Alabama when the Tide was preparing for the Cotton Bowl game/CFP semifinal game against Michigan State. He said, ‘I went up to a practice and I can’t tell you how impressed I was looking at the team in person -- what they looked like not only on the hoof, but to maneuver and run and do the things they do.
“I know we’ve got more muscle.
“Darndest thing I’ve ever seen is looking at Alabama. Nobody else is close on eye test, but eye test doesn’t always win.
“When they were getting ready for Michigan State, they had tunnel vistion. I think they are ready to prove they are the best team in the country.”
That doesn’t mean he thinks Alabama will have an easy time of it against the Tigers when the teams kick off at 7:30 p.m. CST Monday in Glendale, Ariz., a game that will be televised by ESPN.
Oliver said that “the teams up north think they invented football, but I didn’t think Michigan State – which was strong up front -- played that smart against Alabama. Alabama didn’t play great in the first half, but Michigan State didn’t do anything to surprise Alabama.
“This game will be different. Clemson has the library to throw everything at you. They’ll throw different things at Alabama.
“But Alabama just has so much ability.”
Oliver is also aware that the best team doesn’t always win. “The only thing you worry about is giving up some cheap touchdown like to Ole Miss. And two kickoff fumbles. Who in the world fumbles two kickoffs and has five turnovers for the day? You do and you end up losing.
“But I will say that Ole Miss is a lot better team that a lot of people might think. They really had a lot of really good football players.”
“I think at we’ve got better people. I was looking this morning at Clemson and North Carolina (in the ACC Championship Game, won by the Tigers, 45-37). Looking at that I think Clemson has some definciencies on back end. They are good up front.
“Clemson has enough talent to make it competitive, but at days end when you smash mouth – and I think Clemson will respond – but Alabama really has it.”
Oliver said that he thinks Alabama does “great with their eyes. And it’s a little bit unorthodox, but they do a great job with all their groupings on defense. People talk about Alabama’s front seven. But which seven? Part of it is nickel and dime and part of it is outside linebackers they bring in. Clemson goes with a fast paced offense. Let them go. You can run those groupings in and out.”
Oliver thinks the move of Kirby Smart from coaching the safeties to coaching the middle linebackers this season paid off. “My hat is off to Kirby Smart,” he said. “I think moving a secondary coach up to work with the linebackers is a good thing sometimes. Just look at the improvement of Reuben Foster, who has made a big difference with this defense.”
As for the Bama offense against Clemson, Oliver said, “Don’t do anything to put us in the hole, and we’ll be okay.”
Oliver was coaching at Bama when Dabo Swinney walked on with the Tide and he has a high opinion of Clemson’s head coach. “Dabo is a young guy, but he has learned a lot. It’s hard to keep focus when you’re young, and he’s done that. There’s a good reason they gave Dabo that job. They wanted to hire the best guy.”
Oliver thinks it is an interesting match-up in part because of all the Alabama-Clemson ties over the years with Dabo, legendary Coach Frank Howard, Danny Ford, Hootie Ingram, and Charley Pell – all former Alabama players – going on to be head coaches of the Tigers.
96 Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE He also said he’s not sure that Dabo would necessarily want to return to Alabama as head coach one day. “Clemson is a great place to live, and I loved my time there,” Oliver said. PI think it might be hard to lure Dabo away. He’s made his home there and his family loves it and he has been a big part of that community, giving back. Some people don’t have to have all the wealth, and he’s one of them.”