Now that the news has broken on Lance Thompson's pending departure for Tennessee, I think the time has come to have a few comments on the staff changes that are taking place.
First and foremost, we all know the changes. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele left to take the defensive coordinator job at Clemson, while outside linebackers coach Lance Thompson has left to be an unnamed assistant coach at Tennessee.
With Steele, the change comes as no surprise, and if anything was widely expected. He received a promotion-in-title last year, and everyone knew that he was likely doing his last season at Alabama. Steele, a former head coach, wants to get back to being a head coach at a BCS school somewhere, and everyone knows it. Furthermore, that was going to be a bit difficult to do at Alabama since it is really Nick Saban running the defense, regardless of the titles that may exist, but at Clemson under an offensive coach he can have that entire side of the ball to himself. It puts him in a better position to land a head coaching job in the near future, which is his ultimate goal. Again, his move comes as no surprise.
Lance Thompson, on the other hand, is another story. No one really expected him to leave, but obviously he is now gone. Personally I do not understand exactly why he left just yet, but I imagine it has something to do with the fact that he will likely receive a lot more money at Tennessee for a lot less work. Fair enough.
What really irks about Thompson's departure is the manner in which he left, and the interesting circumstances that he leaves behind. Make no mistake about it, Thompson was an integral part of our recruiting machine. He covered the Mobile area and also much of the Florida panhandle, so he had a lot of important responsibilities. He was in charge of players like D.J. Fluker, Trent Richardson, A.J. McCarron, and others. And making matters worse, him leaving three weeks before National Signing Day, he knows exactly what all of our recruiting boards and plans are.
And then there is Richardson. The long-time Alabama commit has not even had Tennessee on his radar screen during his entire recruiting process, but a mere nine days ago he suddenly schedules an official visit to Knoxville. And now we find out that the coach who was recruiting him is headed to Tennessee. I'm not going to make any accusations, mind you, and I fully expect Richardson to stick with Alabama, but you can certainly file that one under the category of, "Things That Make You Go 'Huh.'"
With the Alabama athletic department, I imagine -- despite what official word may later say -- there are plenty of upset people over this. This is actually Thompson's second tour of duty at Alabama, with the first one coming under head coach Mike Dubose, and he has always spoken very highly about our program. In fact, he went on the record several times while he was at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins saying that Alabama was, bar none, the best program in the country. However, after this, the bridges have been burned. Thompson is still a young coach and a great recruiter, but after this episode you can probably forget ever seeing him on an Alabama sideline again. With Thompson, it's not so much that he left that annoys, it is how he left. I don't say this lightly, but it is perhaps the least graceful exit that we have had since Dennis Franchione stepped on the plane bound for College Station.
Moving forward, Steele's departure will be handled seamlessly. Kirby Smart will likely step up and assume the title of defensive coordinator, and then we will bring in another coach somewhere to replace him, all the while Nick Saban still runs the show defensively. And largely the same thing goes for Thompson as an on-field coach. Lost in all of the hoopla about Thompson's recruiting ability is the fact that he was never a particularly good position coach. He was an outright liability on Dubose's staff, and frankly he was mediocre-at-best this time around. If you don't believe me, answer this question, how good was our defensive line in 2000, and how good were our outside linebackers the past two years?
Furthermore, in terms of recruiting, replacing Steele will not have an impact for one simple reason: he did not recruit this season. Simple enough.You don't have to replace what wasn't there to begin with.
Replacing Thompson's recruiting ability, however, will be another story. He is a great recruiter, no doubt about it, and he played a pretty big role in helping us regain our stranglehold on the greater Mobile area. We will have to get a very good recruiter to replace him. In terms of recruiting abilities, Tennessee landed a very good one, no doubt about it.
However, with that said, the world is not exactly coming to an end, despite what some may like to tell you. All of the players that Thompson reeled in this season are already committed, and it's highly unlikely that any of them renege towards Tennessee, regardless of what some of their fans may think, and regardless of what they might try. If this were a head coaching change it would be a major loss, but it's not. Players ultimately commit to a head coach and a program, not a position coach or their area recruiter. Moreover, only one current commitment, Jonathon Atchison, was likely to be actually coached by Thompson at the next level, which is another positive.
Hold me to this if I'm wrong, but I do not expect Alabama to lose any current commitments as a result of Thompson's departure. Moreover, none of the other remaining targets on our board were being actively recruited by Thompson, so there should be no impact there either.
Moving beyond this year, we will need a good recruiter who will do well in the Mobile area, but I'm sure we will get that. Travis Jones' name has been thrown around a bit, and he would be a great hire. Either way, don't look for Alabama to have any problems on the recruiting trails, this year, next year, or beyond. Saban is a prolific recruiter, even going back to his days at Michigan State, and nothing about that is going to change with or without Lance Thompson. If anything, Saban will just replace him with another great recruiter, and his well-oiled recruiting machine will keep humming right along.