By all accounts, the new additions to the Crimson Tide coaching staff have been positive. During his first press conference of spring, Nick Saban said he believed he “hit a home run” with new assistant hirings:
“I am excited about our staff. These guys have been great. They’re really aggressive recruiters, the players like them. I’m really excited about them. I really am.”
This group will have a much different look than recent Tide staffs. For one, there is an infusion of youth. Five of the ten assistants are younger than 40 and only Joe Pannunzio is older than 50. Some of them are very active Tweeters, though they are mostly on the non-controversial Gumpy side. This could be a new Saban philosophy to help coaches relate to the recruits and be more accessible. It’ll be interesting to see if that tactic continues once fall camp opens.
Another aspect of this group is that they are looking a lot like a recruiting All-Star team.
You may need footnotes to figure out all these job titles. It’s all about the hyphen. The offense will have an Offensive Coordinator, an Associate Head Coach/Quarterbacks Coach, and a Co-Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers Coach. What all these titles mean is a state secret but it leads one to think that there will be shared duties and input from all involved.
Mike Locksley (age 48) Offensive Coordinator @CoachLocks
CROOTIN: Locksley’s greatest success to date has been his ability to recruit his hometown of Washington DC and the surrounding area. At previous coaching stops, he managed to convince some pretty good DC area recruits to join him in football wastelands such as Illinois and New Mexico. He certainly caught Saban’s eye when he was able to convince 5-stars Stefon Diggs and Damian Prince to stay home and play for some lousy Maryland teams. His biggest catch for Alabama has been future superstar DE Eyabi Anoma.
COACHING: The players seem to like him but the great unknown is his play-calling, especially in crunch-time high-pressured situations. He called plays during last spring’s A-Day without much on the line. Granted he has a pretty talented offense to work with, so it will be hard to screw up. Still, his track record has not been great at other jobs outside of the 2007 Illinois season (9–4; 6–2 Big Ten) in which he was OC under Ron Zook. Locksley was 2-26 as a head coach at New Mexico and 1-5 as interim coach at Maryland in 2015.
Josh Gattis (age 34) Co-Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers @Coach_Gattis
CROOTIN: Gattis is the youngest on the staff and likely relates to recruits better than most. He hails from North Carolina which has become a hotbed of crootin as of late. Just before exiting Penn State, he got the Early Signing Period signature of the nation’s #1 WR for 2018 (247’s #8 overall) in Justin Shorter out of New Jersey.
COACHING: His title at Penn State was “Passing Game Coord./Asst. Special Teams Coord./WRs”. In essence, he has the same job with the Tide but has the prestige of “Co-Offensive Coordinator” attached to his title. It is unclear how much say he will have in the offensive philosophy. Gattis was with James Franklin at both Vanderbilt and PSU with a philosophy that favors athletic quarterbacks over the NFL-type pocket QBs. Franklin is also a big fan of the Power Run Game.
Dan Enos (age 49) Associate Head Coach/Quarterbacks @CoachDanEnos
CROOTIN: Saban appears to have a new recruiting philosophy for this new crew. Instead of recruiting a certain region of the country, Enos is concentrating on offense - mainly QBs and WRs.
COACHING: Enos is a tough-nose high-energy guy with a strong football acumen. The former Michigan State quarterback worked his way through the ranks before getting the top job at Central Michigan where he was 26–36. Despite receiving a contract extension through the 2016 season at CMU, he left following the 2015 campaign to take the Offensive Coordinator position at Arkansas. Fortunes might have turned out different for Enos and Bret Bielema had they not been plagued by injuries to QB Austin Allen, RB Rawleigh Williams, RB Jonathan Williams and others. One interesting dynamic is that every OC in the Saban era at Alabama, except for Enos, has also been the QB Coach - and play-caller.
Brent Key (age 39) Offensive Line @CoachBrentKey
CROOTIN: One of the lesser known coaches is also one of the best recruiters. Key is a tireless guy who can relate to OL having been one himself at Georgia Tech (as well as Hewitt-Trussville). He has lassoed some pretty big out-of-state catches such as Jedrick Wills (Kentucky), Emil Ekiyor (Indiana), Jarez Parks (Fla.), and Mac Jones (Fla), as well as 2019 5-star OL commit Pierce Quick from his high school alma mater.
COACHING: Key is the only assistant to retain the same coaching title that he had a season ago. Entering his third season at the Capstone, he is the second longest tenured on-field coach on the staff. Thanks to the stock-piling of OL recruits, there is a bountiful supply of talent to choose from. The trick is finding the best combination to gel as one. The past two seasons, he has done a fine job achieving that goal as the offense has experienced a renaissance.
Jeff Banks (age 42) Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends @CoachJeffBanks
CROOTIN: It seemed even before Banks was officially announced as a Tide hire that he was already on the road, talking up the Tide. His territory will likely be Texas to the Pacific Ocean. While at Texas A&M, he snared 5-stars Christian Kirk and Kyle Allen - both from Arizona.
COACHING: Nick Saban will go down in history as one of the greatest - if not THE greatest - coaches in college football. Yet, he is not without flaw. There have been times when special teams have cost him a game. His coverage teams have had let him down in the past but he seems to have remedied that problem in recent seasons. The Tide has always been blessed with excellent punters. And then there is the Achilles’ heel: placekicking. This continuing issue probably prompted his hiring. Banks has a unique perspective for the position in that he is a former punter and a pretty good one, as a two-time All-Pac 10 punter for Washington State. He will also coach tight ends.
Joe Pannunzio (age 58) Running Backs @CoachPannunzio
CROOTIN: Before his promotion to the field last year, Pannunzio had not been on the recruting trail since leaving the Miami Hurricanes in 2010. It hasn’t seemed to slow him down. He is credited as the lead recruiter on Patrick Surtain Jr., Jordan Davis and Josh Jobe for the incoming class. He also has a pledge from 2019 4-star ATH Brandon Turnage out of Oxford, MS.
COACHING: Pannunzio, a former quarterback, has spent the majority of his career coaching tight ends and special teams. Tutoring running backs will be a new challenge for him. With Damien Harris, Najee Harris, Josh Jacobs, and Brian Robinson at his disposal, it should be a smooth transition. Pannunzio was head coach at Murray State from 2000-2005 posting a 30–37 record. He also has served an administrative role at Alabama 2011–2014 and with the Philadelphia Eagles 2015−2016. He replaces longtime Saban lieutenant Burton Burns.
Burton Burns (age 65) @UACoachBBurns now holds the title of Assistant Athletics Director, Football. He held the title of Running Backs coach at Alabama since 2007 and has become a fan favorite for guiding so many Tide legends. His move upstairs was his choice.
“Burton Burns is still around, he’s still going to contribute in other areas. We need some oversight in some other ways. Just in every way, shape and form I want him to help out in an overall way and it’s been very helpful to me.” Nick Saban March 20, 2018
Although some may lament his departure from the field, the situation is not so dire. First, it is quite fortunate to have him still around should Pannunzio have questions or need help. Secondly, he will take on a great deal of organizational duties that will help lighten Saban’s load. When you give a man like Nick Saban more time to plot and scheme, that can be a dangerous thing.
COMING TOMORROW: DEFENSIVE COACHES
Which new offensive coach was the most vital hire?
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