After a week of speculation, we can now confirm that Alabama has hired New England tight ends coach Brian Daboll to run the offense:
Daboll returned to the Patriots as a coaching assistant in 2013 and had been the tight ends coach since 2014, leading a group that included star Rob Gronkowski.
The Ontario native has also been a quarterbacks coach for the New York Jets (2007-08) and the offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns (2009-10), Miami Dolphins (2011) and Kansas City Chiefs (2012).
OK, let’s get this out of the way.
Every one of the offenses that Daboll coordinated was putrid. In fact, every head coach that Daboll worked for during that period was fired, and offensive ineptitude was a major driving factor in each case. There is reason for concern given his history as a play-caller. Likewise, since Daboll has worked almost exclusively in the NFL, he has no recruiting background. On the surface this move is something of a head scratcher.
Needless to say, Nick Saban has earned a certain amount of trust from the fanbase. He gave Daboll his first coaching job as a graduate assistant and, when Bill Belichick was building his initial staff in New England, Saban recommended Daboll to his mentor and friend. Daboll has been with Belichick in New England for 11 of his 17 seasons in the league. Saban knows exactly what he’s getting in Daboll, and in the end that was the key to the hire.
So, what will the offense look like?
The New England offense is built around the principles of the Erhardt-Perkins system, favoring simplified terminology and a scheme built around perfect execution of a few basic concepts, that can each be run out of multiple formations and personnel groups, rather than a thick playbook. Backs and receivers are virtually plug-and-play outside, and a strong ball control running game is the nucleus.
The biggest advantage of the concept-based system is that it operates from the perspective of the most critical player on offense: the quarterback. In other systems, even if the underlying principles are the exact same, the play and its name might be very different. Rather than juggling all this information in real time, an Erhardt-Perkins quarterback only has to read a given arrangement of receivers. “You can cut down on the plays and get different looks from your formations and who’s in them. It’s easier for the players to learn. It’s easier for the quarterback to learn,” former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said back in 2000. “You get different looks without changing his reads. You don’t need an open-ended number of plays.”
That entire article is a great read for those interested in more in-depth information about the system, which is named in part for former Alabama head coach Ray Perkins.
Considering the youth at the quarterback position, it makes perfect sense that Saban would want a more simplified scheme. The bulk of his infamous “ass-chewings” of Kiffin were inspired by mistakes that were, at least partially, attributable to trying to play at a faster pace or questionably cute play-calling. In terms of style, expect the 2017 offense to look much more like the 2012 unit than 2016.
This isn’t to say that the scheme will be vanilla and boring. There is plenty of room for trick plays, and the athleticism at the QB position should help to extend plays and push the ball down the field. Up front, New England is primarily a “power” blocking team that mixes in a few inside and outside zone runs as opposed to the virtually exclusive zone blocking seen in Tuscaloosa over the past few seasons.
Of course, zone blocking allows the use of the QB read option and is a better fit with the RPOs that are heavily used in college due to the relaxed ineligible receiver rules. With the dual threat at QB, one has to imagine that there will be a place for these concepts.
For better or worse, Saban has his man. Daboll and Co-OC Mike Locksley have about a month to get a scheme together for spring practice. Their respective backgrounds would suggest that Locksley is likely to coach the quarterbacks while Daboll handles the WRs, but that will obviously be Saban’s call. In any event, they will have the best offensive skill talent in the country at their disposal. Let’s hope they can find a way to maximize it.
Welcome to Tuscaloosa, Brian.