As you all probably know by now, Major Applewhite is as good as gone to Texas by this point. So what of it? How did it come about, and why? Moreover, what effect will it have?
To begin with, to clarify things, it seems that Applewhite left Alabama to be the running backs coach in Austin, and not in any position such as a coordinator. He will not be calling any plays, nor will he be playing a major role in designing the game plans for each week.
It is currently being mentioned in several circles that Saban did not want Applewhite to continue as offensive coordinator; to be sure, he apparently wanted him to continue in some capacity on the staff, but not in his current role.
All of this, in all honesty, should come as no major surprise. When Applewhite was hired twelve months ago, he was hired with a great degree of hesitation on the part of Saban. When Applewhite was at Rice, he had full reins over the offense and implemented a full-blown spread attack. However, it was very obvious from the beginning that Saban was very concerned at the prospect of handing the entire offense over to a 29 year old kid, one with only four years of coaching experience, and only one year as a coordinator. So, the wary Saban decided to do something about it, and this is where Joe Pendry comes in.
Pendry is officially the offensive line coach, but of course the sphere of his influence over the program runs much deeper. With legitimate concerns over Applewhite, Saban largely leaned on Pendry in 2007 to keep the young and inexperienced Applewhite at bay. He was wary of turning the entire offense over to Applewhite, so the offense became not what Applewhite ran at Rice, but instead a collaboration between Pendry, Applewhite and Saban.
At this point, it seems readily apparent that Saban was not pleased, and is not pleased, as to how things worked out. Applewhite was not his first choice, but he was probably the best candidate on the board at the time, and Saban gave it a go. Unfortunately, things didn't really improve all that much. Yes, the offense was better in 2007 than it was in 2006 -- how could it have gotten any worse? -- but the improvement is not what we, and apparently Saban, expected. John Parker Wilson took a major step back, to put it mildly, the running game struggled from the Arkansas game on, and the offense simply sputtered out down the stretch.
From all I can deduce of the situation, Saban reached a point to where he still did not have the confidence to turn the entire offense over to Applewhite, but he was equally unwilling to continue to field an offense that was the by-product of multiple viewpoints with no solid foundational basis to be found in a single person and one single philosophy. As a result, he seemingly decided Applewhite was not going to run the show, but also that the Applewhite / Pendry / Saban collaboration would also not return in 2008.
I believe that is the major reason as to why Applewhite was effectively demoted at Alabama, and that is the major reason why he left. Had Applewhite been able to continue as offensive coordinator and play-caller, he would have certainly never left Alabama to be a mere running backs coach, even at his alma mater. That, however, was unlikely to be the case. I imagine that Saban was going to allow Applewhite to remain the quarterbacks coach, nothing more, and with that in mind he decided to return home.
So what effect will the Applewhite departure have on Alabama?
I tend to think that his departure will have a very minimal effect, if any whatsoever. From a coaching perspective, the loss of Applewhite is simply nothing particularly concerning. He was a young and inexperienced coach whom the Nicktator did not fully trust, losing such a person is no major loss. Applewhite may be a great coach one day, but I think it is very obvious that at this stage he is a young coach with a steep learning curve still ahead of him.
On the recruiting trails, the effect should be very minimal as well. With all due respect to Applewhite, all of these recruits haven't been kicking down the door to come play for him. They are coming to Alabama because we have arguably the best coach in the country, the best facilities in the country, a stadium that will hold well over 100,000 people by the time they leave, and a program that is viewed by most rational experts to be headed back to the elites of college football. That is why recruits are so adamant about coming to Alabama. Our recent recruiting boom really has nothing to do with Applewhite.
The only recruit I was particularly concerned about when the Applewhite rumors began was Star Jackson. However, Jackson recently dismissed such worries in recent interviews, saying that he was solid with Alabama regardless of what happened with Applewhite, and that he had committed to Alabama, not a particular coach.
Considering that no other offensive commitment seems to be a concern at the moment, we really only have one legitimate offensive prospect left on the board -- unless Aundre Dean surprises us all -- and that is Julio Jones, and I have seen nothing to indicate that it would hurt his decision. Moreover, interestingly enough, most feel our main competition for Julio is Oklahoma, and they too recently they lost their offensive coordinator, so that is really nothing more than a wash.
In reality, the loss of Applewhite should have little to no negative impact.
So where do we go from here?
Well, of course, only Saban knows that, but I suspect that he will go outside the program and hire another offensive coordinator / quarterbacks coach. Some people have mentioned the possibility that Pendry could step in and take over as offensive coordinator, but I find that unlikely. If Saban really wanted Pendry as offensive coordinator, he would have just named him as such last year, and never messed around with Applewhite. As a result, I imagine that scenario, though possible, is highly unlikely. The smart money, at this point, is on an outside hire.
Moreover, no one should be overly concerned with scheme changes. While a new man will be brought in and new wrinkles will be added, the offense will not be changing with or without Applewhite. Saban wants to run a spread offense that, at times, utilizes traditional pro-set formations and concepts, and that is what we are going to run. That is largely what we ran in 2007, and that is what we will run in the future.
To close, we should all view this episode as a learning opportunity about the ol' Nicktator. Simply put, Saban is a man who demands excellence immediately, and he will not accept anything less. He is willing to experiment -- as the Applewhite hire itself showed -- but he is the type of coach who will immediately go in another direction if he feels the current situation is not maximizing production. He is most certainly not built in the Shula mold, where obvious problems linger for years with no attempts made to rectify those problems. Rest assured that if we have a shortcoming with Saban, he will address it immediately.
To be precise, Saban is not an offensive mind. He is, first and foremost, a defensive coach, and many close to Saban in the past have mentioned that he generally displays an indifference to the offensive side of the ball. For whatever particular reason, he has never been captivated by the strategic nuances of that side of the ball, and has always been a defensive coach. That is not to say, mind you, that he does not understand the importance of a good offense, much to the contrary. All it says is that Saban generally likes to outsource his offense to another person altogether so that he can put the bulk of his focus on the defensive side of the ball. With all of that in mind, Saban will have his defense playing great football in a very short period of time, and he will ensure that we have the quality of coaching on the offensive side of the football needed to light up the scoreboard.
At the end of the day, I have no worries regarding Applewhite's departure. I imagine that Saban will please us all with a new hire, and at the end of the day, the offense will improve across the board in 2008.
As Bryant himself once said:
With Saban, we have the chairman of the board, and rest assured, as long as he spends his Autumn Saturdays at 100 Bryant Drive, the rest will fall into place.