Who is Tosh Lupoi? He's the latest in a line of eventual assistant coaches who started their respective careers at the Capstone as graduate assistants or "analysts."
In Lupoi's case, it was the latter, as he joined the Crimson Tide defensive staff as an analyst for the 2014 season after serving in various defensive coaching capacities primarily in the PAC12. On January 26, Lupoi became the youngest member of the Alabama Crimson Tide coaching staff with his promotion from analyst to outside linebackers coach.
Head coach Nick Saban said the progression was a natural one for Lupoi, as he likes what he's seen from the young assistant in his time in Tuscaloosa.
"We are happy to have Tosh on board as a full-time assistant coach," said Saban. "Tosh has impressed me during his time here over the course of last year and he will be a great addition to our defensive staff. He's a high-energy guy and we feel like he will be able to contribute some new ideas both as a coach on the field as well as his role as in recruiting."
After an unfortunate end to his career at the University of Washington in 2013, Lupoi was snapped up by Saban for an Alabama defense in need of a return to its previous level of dominance. With an impressive resume as a defensive line and outside linebackers coach, it was only a matter of time before Lupoi was elevated in the coaching chain of command at Alabama.
Lupoi is a particularly good fit for the current Tide defensive scheme, as he has worked with the Tide's 3-4 basic alignment in prior stops at Cal and Washington. After a playing career as a defensive lineman with the Golden Bears ended in 2005, Lupoi found his way onto the staff at Cal in 2008 as a defensive line coach, becoming the youngest full-time coach (at 26) in the history of the Cal program. In 2011, the fruits of Lupoi's labors were borne, as the Bears led the PAC12 in total defense (332.9 yards per game allowed) and were third in overall sacks with 34. The Cal defense that year gave up the fewest number of first downs in an offensively-driven conference, while also allowing the fewest passing yards per game. The unit ranked in the top 25 nationally in average sacks per game, total defense and passing defense.
Notably, in his time in Berkley, Lupoi coached two eventual first round selections in the NFL Draft, specifically Cameron Jordan and Tyson Alualu. The young coach also proved his ability on the recruiting trail after being tapped the Rivals Recruiter of the Year in 2010. Tide fans may not be aware of this, but Lupoi was critical in luring former Tide 5-star defensive back commit Keenan Allen away from the Capstone to the Golden State.
His steady ascent continued at his next stop at the University of Washington, where he joined the staff assembled by current USC coach Steve Sarkisian in 2012. At UW, Lupoi again served in a familiar role as defensive line coach, with the added responsibility of coaching one of the outside linebacker positions. His focus on the pass rush was obvious, as the Huskies' defense immediately reaped the benefits of his tutelage. During Lupoi's two year tenure at Washington, the defense was in the top four of the PAC12 in scoring defense and fourth nationally in sacks per game with 3.15.
Again, Lupoi's guidance figured heavily into the development of two future defensive stars. Both outside linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha and defensive lineman Danny Shelton were named to the All-American roster in 2013. Kikaha led the country in sacks with 19, and Shelton was the most prolific sack-master among the Huskie defensive linemen with nine.
Not that Bama needed much help in recruiting after hauling in yet another consensus #1 ranked signing class, but after joining the Tide in 2014, Lupoi contributed to the Tide's success in that regard, albeit in an on-campus role. As an off-field representative of the football program, he was relegated to on-campus recruiting only for the 2014 season by NCAA rule. Known as an energetic recruiter, Lupoi will now be free to recruit off-campus this season as an on-field coach, giving Tide fantastic reach into his preferred stomping grounds on the West Coast.
Of course, all of this upside comes with a caveat. The red elephant in the room is the way the coach parted with his previous employer, as Lupoi is not without some NCAA baggage which kept him from being considered for a position on Sarkisian's USC staff. Though the allegations against him have been put to rest and are no longer an issue, for a school as NCAA gun-shy as Alabama, the allegations provide a moment of pause, if nothing else.
In a nutshell, allegations arose in December 2013 involving Lupoi and a prospective student-athlete being recruited by the University of Washington. Lupoi was accused of paying for tutoring and online classes for defensive line recruit Andrew Basham, who signed an LOI with UW but failed to qualify academically. Specifically, according to a report filed by the Los Angeles Times, the allegations involved a payment of $4,500 to Basham's track and field throwing coach for tutoring and online classes, charges which Lupoi vehemently denied.
At the time of the investigation, the young coach was being considered for a position on the USC staff. Though the NCAA eventually decided that the allegations warranted no further action on its part, the Trojans cooled on Lupoi, and he was not retained by Washington with the hiring of Chris Peterson.
Lupoi had been tagged with the NCAA infraction scarlet letter once before in the spring of 2012, when his recruiting activities were "limited" following an alleged secondary infraction. According to AP reports, the infraction involved Lupoi's alleged "publicizing the visit of a prospective student athlete who ultimately did not commit to UW by confirming info about the recruit to members of the Dawg Pound student section at a men's basketball game."
Granted, if factual, these are seemingly minor infractions, particularly the latter. But again, for a school that has been burned by the NCAA stove-eye in the past, such allegations can be cause for minor hand-wringing, even if only momentarily. Of course, one has to conclude Saban did his due diligence and found no cause for alarm before hiring Lupoi. After all, other former Tide assistants have arrived with similar past issues, but have come and gone to Tuscaloosa without further incident.
Overall, in Lupoi the Tide gets an experienced, energetic recruiting savant with proven experience in developing defenses in an area sorely in need of improvement for the Tide- specifically, the pass rush. Lupoi's prowess on the recruiting trail mitigates the loss of Lance Thompson as a recruiter, and his development of all-star pass rushers in the pass bodes well for the Tide's outside linebackers.