Stuart McNair

Alabama football adds a coach, subtracts a coach, and changes duties of a coach

Alabama confirms football coaching changes, including addition of Brent Key

Alabama’s athletics department has confirmed news reports that Alabama Football Coach Nick Saban has made some changes in his coaching staff. Earlier in the year two additions were necessary when Kirby Smart left the staff to be head coach at Georgia and Smart took Bama safeties coach Mel Tucker with him to be defensive coordinator.

The latest additions involve reassigning one coach and having another leave the field to be a special assistant to Saban.

There had been previous reports that Brent Key would join the Alabama staff as an offensive line coach, and Saban announced that Key would coach guard and centers. Mario Cristobal, who had been coaching guards, centers, and tackles on the offensive line, will continue to coach tackles and will add tight ends to his task. He will also serve as recruiting coordinator.

In order to make room for Key, Bobby Williams, who had coached tight ends and served as special teams coordinator, will now serve as special assistant to the head coach. Williams leaves the field on a high note with his tight end, O.J. Howard, having been named most valuable offensive player in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Alabama defeated Clemson, 45-40, with Howard having two long touchdown receptions and another long pass play that set up Bama’s winning touchdown.

The game also included two very memorable plays by the special teams. The kickoff team successfully executed an onsides kick that was followed in quick order by one of Howard’s TD receptions. The kickoff return team got a 95-yard touchdown runback from Kenyan Drake.

announced the hiring of Brent Key on Tuesday to coach the guards and centers along the offensive line for the Crimson Tide while Mario Cristobal will shift over to coach the offensive tackles and tight ends while serving as recruiting coordinator. Key will replace Bobby Williams on the field, who will move into the position of special assistant to the head coach.

 A University news release quoted Saban as saying Key “is an outstanding football coach who is well-respected across the country in terms of his knowledge of the game, his reputation as a teacher, and his ability to recruit.”

Key spent the past 11 seasons as an assistant coach at Central Florida, including the 2015 season as the Knights’ offensive coordinator and running backs coach. He originally started as a graduate assistant at UCF in 2005. Key was Central Florida’s offensive line coach for six seasons (2009-14), holding the title of assistant head coach from 2012-14. He also served six seasons as the Knights recruiting coordinator (2007, 2010-14). Key coached the tight ends from 2006-08 and added the role of special teams coordinator for the 2008 campaign.

 Key is a native of Trussville, where he earned all-state honors at Hewitt-Trussville High School before moving on to Georgia Tech where he started 44 games in a decorated career with the Yellow Jackets. He helped Tech earn four-straight bowl berths and a share of the 1998 ACC title before being selected All-ACC as a senior in 2000. Key graduated from Georgia Tech in 2001 with a degree in management.

“What a tremendous opportunity to work at The University of Alabama with Coach Saban,” Key said in a news release. “Coach Saban has built a tremendous program in Tuscaloosa, continuing a long tradition of success. I’m really excited to be part of this team and can’t wait to get on the field and start teaching.”

Cristobal, who also holds the position of assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator, will continue his work with the offensive tackles in 2016 while adding tight ends to increase his on-field duties, a position he coached for five years while working at Rutgers and Miami.


“We also believe it is a great opportunity for Mario to focus on his work with our tackles and be more involved in other aspects of our football program as he takes on the role with our tight ends,” Saban said. “Mario brings outstanding energy and dedication to our football team and has been an integral part of our success over the past three years.”

Cristobal’s 2015 offensive line cleared the way for Heisman Trophy running back Derrick Henry to rush for a school- and SEC-record 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns. Center Ryan Kelly won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s best center and the offensive line as a unit captured the Joe Moore Award, which goes to the toughest, most physical offensive line in the country. In his three years at Alabama, Cristobal has coached Cyrus Kouandjio, Arie Kouandjio and Kelly to first-team All-America honors.

For the last eight seasons, Williams has served as the Crimson Tide’s tight end coach and special teams coordinator. He tutored All-American punter JK Scott and place-kicker Leigh Tiffin along with NFL tight ends Michael Williams and Brad Smelley. Williams was an integral part of four national championship teams during his time with the Crimson Tide.

“My relationship with Bobby goes back a long time,” Saban said. “Bobby has been a key piece of our staff as we worked to build this program to compete at a national championship level. Even though he won’t be on the field coaching, he will be vital to our success in this role as special assistant to the head coach.”

Saban did not address the issue of special teams coordinator in the news release, but in the past he has pointed out that special teams coaching is collaboration. 

Williams followed Saban as the head coach at Michigan State and served in that post from 2000-02. He led the Spartans to a victory over Florida in the 2000 Citrus Bowl after the 1999 season in his first game as the school’s head coach. He was the associate head coach and wide receivers coach at LSU in 2004 after spending one year as the receivers coach for the Detroit Lions in 2003. Williams coached running backs for the Miami Dolphins in 2005-06.

All employment contracts are subject to the formality of approval by The University of Alabama Board of Trustees.

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