News Analysis: Questions arise from largest coaching turnover in Saban's Alabama tenure - Montgomery Advertiser

G

Google Inc.

#1

Analysis: Questions arise from largest coaching turnover in Saban's Alabama tenure
Montgomery Advertiser


TUSCALOOSA — With each official release announcing the six new additions to Alabama’s football coaching staff this winter, coach Nick Saban made sure to acknowledge one particular aspect of each coach’s resume — their prowess as a recruiter.

More so than in any individual time during Saban's 11-year tenure in Tuscaloosa, this offseason saw significant turnover among Saban’s on-field assistant coaches, with nine of the team’s 10 positions now manned by a different coach than a year ago.

In fact, the lone holdover in the same position he held last season is third-year offensive line coach Brent Key.

But as he replenished his on-field staff following the departures of both coordinators and a pair of position coaches, Saban clearly also sought to imbue more youthful energy and industrious recruiters to a Crimson Tide program that saw its seven-year reign atop the national recruiting rankings end in February.

“Listen, if I know anything about Nick Saban — and I've been around that program quite a bit — they're going to go out, and they're going to get grinders and workers in player evaluation and recruiting, first and foremost,” ESPN recruiting expert Tom Luginbill said last month. “The coaching part of it will come second. So that's been the approach for them, and that might also be one of the reasons why they went a little bit younger in some areas.”

The additions include a trio in their early-to-mid 30s — co-defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach Pete Golding, co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Josh Gattis and defensive backs coach Karl Scott — and an energetic 42-year-old specials teams coach in Jeff Banks, along with two 49-year-old associate head coaches in defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski and quarterbacks coach Dan Enos.

“We’re pleased with the energy and enthusiasm of the people we brought in,” Saban said last month in Atlanta, according to 247Sports.com.

The hires joined several youthful carryovers such as 36-year-old defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi, the 39-year-old Key and 48-year-old offensive coordinator Mike Locksley. Both Locksley and Lupoi were on staff as co-coordinators/position coaches last season before in-house promotions last month.

Only 58-year-old running backs coach Joe Pannunzio has eclipsed the half-century mark, replacing Burton Burns in that position after the 65-year-old moved into an administrative role last month.

But in addition to bringing in new energy and elite recruiters, Saban’s remodeled staff of coaches also addresses several pressing issues.

Key among those was establishing some semblance of continuity and familiarity with the Locksley and Lupoi promotions, especially as it pertains to Alabama’s mostly returning offense, which will open the 2018 season with its fourth offensive coordinator since the end of the 2015 regular season.

“He’s been a great addition to our staff, he’s been a coordinator before, he’s been a head coach, he’s great with the players, he’s a good teacher, he’s a good recruiter,” Saban said of Locksley in January. “He’s got great knowledge of several offenses. Some of the stuff that we do were things that he was able to implement and have knowledge of. So we’re excited about what he’ll bring (at coordinator).”
Locksley was instrumental in many of Alabama’s run-pass option plays the past two seasons with dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts at the helm.
But with rising sophomore Tua Tagovailoa involved in a wide-open competition with Hurts for the starting job this season, the addition of Enos, the former Arkansas offensive coordinator with experience developing pro-style quarterbacks, creates a dynamic of having coaches with seemingly opposing philosophies uniting under the same offense. Throw in Gattis as co-offensive coordinator and the Crimson Tide offense has the potential to be multifaceted on several levels.

Defensively, the addition of Kuligowski appears to be a stroke of genius as Saban brings in one of the nation’s most revered defensive line coaches, one with a track record of developing elite college pass rushers.

Whether it was due to losses along the defensive front or devastating injuries to a multitude of linebackers, Alabama’s pass rush took a clear step back last season. The Tide’s sack numbers dropped from a NCAA-leading 52 and 54 in 2015-16 to rank 13th nationally with 40 sacks in 2017.
Kuligowski, who has strong recruiting ties to talent hotbeds in South Florida and Texas, also brings an enthusiasm reflective of his “Coach Kool” moniker.

But arguably the most significant addition is Banks, a former Washington State punter who has built a strong reputation as a special teams guru.

After five seasons at Texas A&M, Banks brings something none of the three previous Tide special teams coordinators under Saban possessed — an intimate knowledge of what it takes to kick at the Division I level.

“That’s definitely something that’s really going to help,” former Alabama punter JK Scott said in January. “If there’s a guy that’s kicked and punted, that makes a huge difference in terms of how they can help the kickers and punters. Because it’s really, really hard for a guy that’s never kicked a ball to help a punter or kicker do their thing, just because they don’t have the experience. But that’s going to be really good for the kickers and punters.”

Throughout his tenure at Alabama, Scott routinely relied on outside help to work through any issues or for any help he might need, which required him to send off video of himself and await feedback.

With Banks now on staff, Tide specialists like early enrollee punter Skyler DeLong, redshirt freshman kicker Joseph Bulovas and incoming graduate transfer Austin Jones of Temple will have someone on staff to turn to when they need help.

And given some of Alabama’s issues in the kicking department since Leigh Tiffin graduated in 2009, Banks could just be the most important addition of them all.


Analysis: Questions arise from largest coaching turnover in Saban's Alabama tenure