Nick Saban is seeking to improve the passing game and tabbed a coach fresh off New England’s stunning Super Bowl victors to be Alabama’s new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Brian Daboll has moved onto the Crimson Tide offensive staff after a long career in the National Football League.
Chad Pennington was under the tutelage of Brian Daboll in 2007 with the New York Jets. The former Marshall University quarterback earned a reputation as an intellectually sound signal caller.
Daboll, who was quarterbacks coach for the Jets in 2007 and 2008, taught the Rhodes Scholar finalist the nuances of executing near the goalline.
Pennington said, “I learned a lot from Brian in studying the red zone coverages and understanding combination coverages and also, how a defense attacks an offense especially in the red zone. I made huge strides at that point in my career in that area underneath him.”
Tight spacing as a team nears the goal-line requires mastering a specific chapter of offensive football. Surveying the field for one-on-one match ups is crucial. “Anticipation and timing is quicker in the red zone and the room for error is minimal.”
Pennington, the York Jets 2000 number one draft choice, 18th overall, recalled, “I learned a lot of football under Brian, particularly a lot of the coverages and techniques within coverages. He has a great understanding of attacking defenses, attacking coverages. I learned a lot of football from him. He made me a better football player from a mental standpoint.”
Every assistant coach has his own unique demeanor during practice, classroom, and on game day. Pennington said of Daboll, “It’s a very cerebral approach mixed in with enthusiasm and energy making sure as a quarterback you are locked in mentally. At the same time bring energy and enthusiasm to your team and to the huddle so your teammates can feed off of that. In the classroom he expects you to be like a student. Being a student-athlete can be to your advantage if you understand how to take notes, learn how to break down film, and categorize situations of the game. Being able to communicate those in the classroom is important. Once you step out on the field, you’ve already talked about those situations.”
He added, “On game day I feel that he wanted you to play confidently because you are prepared. Always be ready to make adjustments. Understand there is always going to be some adversity. You have to be able to make those adjustments. That is where you rely upon your preparation and knowledge of the system.”
With Saban known for demanding long hours from assistant coaches, Daboll should transition smoothly to the Tide staff, according to Pennington.
“When he was a younger coach, he was not afraid to sleep in his office,” Pennington said. “That showed me early he wasn’t afraid to put whatever time necessary in to come up with a cut up or a film review or whatever may be. He is going to put in the necessary time and grind through it to make sure we were prepared in our quarterback room.
“I have seen him numerous times even come in his office at 6:30 AM just getting up from his cot because he had pulled off an all-nighter.”
The 17-year NFL sideline veteran relies on a different approach to motivating. “I’ve heard stories from players who had him as a receivers or tight ends coach. He instills confidence in you to get the job done because of the preparation that you’ve put in. He enjoys the scheme part of football and always having that answer for the defense. He wants you to take pride in being able to execute at a high level with the schemes you’ve developed to attack a defense. Celebration comes from those moments.”
Offensive coordinators function in a pressurized environment responsible for producing points. Touchdowns usually elicit animated behavior from Daboll. “You can see wherever he’s been when the offense scores and there are big plays made, he is not afraid to show some excitement and some energy,” said Pennington. “I think that’s important for players to see that from their staffs. They must know the assistant coaches are just as excited as the players are to see them execute, score and be successful. There is a lot of hard work and thankless hours put in to each football game.”
Coaching the quarterback’s technical proficiency is a specific skill. “I don’t think his background comes from the quarterback position,” Pennington said. “Obviously, he has been with New England Patriots for quite some time and understands the importance.
“One of the things Coach Belichick (Patriots Coach Bill Belichick) does very well in New England is many of his staff have coached on both sides of the football so that makes them very well rounded in understanding everything. They are not coaching with blinders on. From a quarterback technician standpoint I can’t speak to that because I do not know what he has done in the last eight years. I know a lot of his experience came from other positions.”
Former coach and pupil keep in contact. A ritualistic phone call is made each year as Daboll drives to training camp. Family, common friends are among the topics discussed. Occasional texts are traded throughout the season as well. Pennington currently serves a Director (North Central Territory) in the NFL Legends Community, connecting former players to their teams and each other. He links them to all the available resources to insure a successful post-career. He also is employed as a transition coach on a case-by-case basis with former NFL players. Additionally, Pennington coaches numerous youth football and basketball teams.
A bucket list item for the former quarterback is to drive to a rivalry game in an RV. Alabama vs. Auburn fits neatly into that category or maybe Alabama vs. Tennessee. Look for the Knoxville native to visit Tuscaloosa in the very near future.