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Alabama Spring Football 2017: Previewing the Coaches

Three new coaches on the Tide staff, all on offense.

Alabama v USC Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Nick Saban enters his eleventh spring at the Capstone and does not appear to be heading for a full time squat on the shores of Lake Burton anytime soon. He is still as focused, driven, and sharp as ever.

Last season’s National Championship Game loss was assuredly a difficult ending to what should have been the embodiment of The Process®. Nobody understands this game better than Saban and this setback will drive him to get better. He started planning for the 2017 season long ago.

Every year in the college game, there will be major player turnover. To a lesser degree, there will be assistant coaches coming and going. The three openings at Alabama, all on offense, have been filled and some assignments have been adjusted. The key to a good staff is finding the right combination of personnel to perform all the duties demanded of a college program. Last season’s staff seemed a little out of sorts, an issue hopefully rectified.

Listed below is the 2017 coaching staff. Coaching titles are listed as they are on Alabama’s official website


The departure of center/team captain Ryan Kelly to the NFL after the 2015 season was more painful than the loss of quarterback Jake Coker. The arrival of Jalen Hurts was a boon for the Crimson Tide but you would be hard-pressed to convince most folks that the offensive line ever completely gelled last season without their All-American center.

Aside from any criticism of philosophies or playcalling, the 2016 Alabama offense finished 15th in the nation in scoring at 38.8 points per game, and twelfth in rushing of 245.0 ypg. They were 87th in passing, 210.3 ypg.


Cleveland Browns 2009 Headshots
Brian Daboll

Brian Daboll, Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
After Lane Kiffin wore out his welcome and the uneven debut/finale of Steve Sarkisian, it appears Nick Saban is looking for more stability and maybe some more subservience in his OC hire. Daboll brings many years of experience as an NFL assistant, mostly under Bill Belichick in New England. If you like what the Patriots do on offense, you will probably like what Daboll will bring to Tuscaloosa. The short version is that it is a more basic playbook run out of multiple formations and personnel groups with an emphasis on ball control through the running game. The shorter version is RTDB!
Interesting tidbits: Daboll was born in Canada and graduated from the University of Rochester with a degree in economics. He is 25 days older than Kiffin.


NCAA Football: Maryland at Iowa
Mike Locksley
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Michael “Mike” Locksley, Co-Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers
Locksley has deep roots in the Washington DC area. He was born in our nation’s capital, played ball at Towson State and has had two coaching stints at Maryland. After two years at Florida and four seasons as OC at Illinois, both under Ron Zook, he got his first head coaching job at New Mexico in 2009, but failed miserably (2–26 in three seasons). Despite the record, he set up a strong recruiting pipeline from DC to the Land of Enchantment that still exists today under Bob Davie.
Locksley started his coaching career on the defensive side but switched over to offense early on. In his 24 years of coaching, he has handled DB, DL, OLB, WR, TE, RB, QB. He is also an outstanding recruiter, especially in the fertile Mid-Atlantic region. Locksley was promoted from Offensive Analyst to replace Billy Napier who left Tuscaloosa after four seasons to become offensive coordinator at Arizona State. It is speculative at best as to why Locksley was given the title of Co-Offensive Coordinator.
Interesting tidbit: Born on Christmas Day 1969.

Burton Burns, Associate Head Coach/Running Backs/Special Teams
There are none more loyal to Saban and The Process® than Coach Burns. He has tutored a string of legendary Crimson Tide running backs that you all know (Coffee, Ingram, Trent, Lacy, Yeldon, Henry...). He is an excellent recruiter especially in his hometown of New Orleans. This season, he will be sharing duties on special teams.
Interesting tidbit: Was a fullback on the 1971 Nebraska freshman team but had his career cut short by a knee injury.

Joe Pannunzio, Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends
After two years in the Philadelphia Eagles front office, Pannunzio returns to Tuscaloosa. He served as the Crimson Tide’s director of football operations for four seasons from 2011-14. Over his career, he has had on-field gigs coaching tight ends & special teams at TCU (under Jim Wacker), Minnesota (Wacker), Ole Miss (Tommy Tuberville), Auburn (Tuberville) and Miami (Larry Coker & Randy Shannon). He also served as head coach of Murray State from 2000–2005 (30–37). He is taking the slot vacated by Mario Cristobal, who is the new OC at Oregon.
Interesting tidbit: Coached tight end Kris Mangum for two seasons at Ole Miss who went on to a 10 year NFL career with the Carolina Panthers. Mangum is the younger brother of former Tide and Chicago Bears DB John Mangum.

Brent Key, Offensive Line
As the second-longest tenured offensive assistant at Alabama, Key will take over the whole offensive line. A season ago, he and Mario Cristobal split these duties with Mario handling tackles and tight ends, while Key managed the guards and centers. This experiment lasted only one season. Key might have the biggest challenge of all the coaches in finding the right combination. Fortunately for him, he has a rather large talent pool to choose from.
Interesting tidbit: A native of Trussville, Alabama who played right guard at Georgia Tech from 1997–2000.


Unlike the offense, the defense saw no turnover among the staff. However, there was a slight scare with Tosh Lupoi.

The Alabama defense is still strong but will have to replace some of the finest Tide defenders to ever step on the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Crimson Tide finished 2016 tops in the nation in scoring defense yielding 13.0 ppg over 15 games, rushing defense giving up a miniscule 63.93 ypg - 33 yards better than the next closest team - and total defense at 261.8 ypg. Alabama was 24th against the pass 197.9 ypg but ninth nationally in pass efficiency defense. Despite the personnel losses, the returning players have spent a good deal of time on the playing field. In addition, there will be no major changes to the schemes.


NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Alabama
Jeremy Pruitt.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremy Pruitt, Defensive Coordinator
His title is Defensive Coordinator but he specializes in inside linebackers. Pruitt played for Gene Stallings at the Capstone from 1995-1996 and was hired as a grad assistant a year later. After bouncing around high school coaching for several seasons, Saban hired him away from powerhouse Hoover HS to be director of player development and later secondary coach. After a year at FSU and two at UGA, mama called him home, or maybe it was Saban.
Interesting tidbit: Pruitt appeared on the MTV series Two-A-Days while coaching at Hoover.

Tosh Lupoi, Co-Defensive Coordinator
Alabama has their own version of Tosh 2.0 as Lupoi begins a new phase at Alabama. In the off-season, he was courted by other programs to be their DC. Deep Bama pockets and a promotion to Co-Defensive Coordinator kept him in Tuscaloosa. Although it is unclear to the public how he can be Co-DC and Pruitt be DC, we will just have to trust that Saban has an inkling of knowing what he is doing. His focus is on the outside linebackers.
Interesting tidbits: Named Pac-10 All-Academic in 2005 while at Cal. His father, John Lupoi, played collegiate football at Brigham Young.

Derrick Ansley, Defensive Backs
Despite losing Marlon Humphrey and Eddie Jackson, Ansley will have a plethora of chess pieces to play with. He will have eight returning players who participated in at least eleven games in 2016, along with Shyheim Carter who saw action in 9 games.
Ansley spent five seasons coaching at NCAA Division III Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala., before taking a graduate assistant position at Alabama from 2010-2011. This was followed by a year at Tennessee and three at Kentucky before Saban lured him back to the Capstone.
Interesting tidbit: A native of Tallassee, Alabama, he finished third in the nation in interceptions as a junior at Troy in 2003 with nine picks.

NFL: International Series-Buffalo Bills Practice
Karl Dunbar
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Karl Dunbar, Defensive Line
Dunbar’s job will not be as easy as that of Ansley. Naming the starters will not be as difficult as finding the depth to fill out rotations. The feeling is that the world will soon learn the name Da'Ron Payne. Da'Shawn will lend a Hand (sorry). Joshua Frazier will contribute. However, there is talented yet inexperienced players behind these three.
Dunbar’s early coaching career began in college. He spent the ten years before joining Alabama with NFL teams. He served under Rex Ryan with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.
Interesting tidbits: Full first name is Karmichael. Selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the eighth round, 209th overall, of the 1990 NFL Draft. LSU grad!


Scott Cochran, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach
Live for the Pain! Arguably the best and highest paid S & C coach in the nation. Worth.Every.Penny.
Interesting tidbit: LSU grad!

Alabama Atheletics has a staff of 14 instructors among the Strength and Conditioning Department for all sports. Among them are some familiar names to Crimson Tide football fans. Terry Jones is Cochran's number two as Assistant Head Strength and Conditioning Coach. Kindal Moorehead and Josh Chapman are Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coaches, while Jesse Williams serves as Assistant Coach, Sports Science/Performance


Their roles are a blend between graduate assistant and advance scout. Unlike a quality control position in the NFL or a graduate assistant in college, analysts are not among the group of coaches the NCAA allows to instruct players. Analysts and quality control coaches, like GAs, are not permitted to recruit. By NCAA rules, GAs also must be enrolled as graduate students, as the name suggests. Analysts do not need to be enrolled in classes.

The biggest name among the analysts is Chris Weinke. Although neither Alabama nor the 2000 Heisman Trophy winner and former Carolina Panthers QB has publicly confirmed the hire, it appears as though he will join the Tide staff. Weinke recently served as the quarterbacks coach for the Los Angeles Rams (2015-16). He was also the previous Director of Football at IMG Academy, while Tide running back Bo Scarbrough was on the team.

Also serving in analyst roles are William Vlachos and Wes Neighbors. Both are former Crimson Tide players.

Former Philadelphia Eagles analyst Shea Tierney enters his second season with the Tide.

Also returning are Garrett Cox, Dean Altobelli, and Brendan Farrell.