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2019 Alabama Crimson Tide Spring Football Unit Previews: Meet the new offensive coaching staff

Coach Sarkisian will have more talent than ever at his disposal.

Maryland v Rutgers Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

If there was any area from 2018 where Tide fans did not want to see coaching attrition, it was with an offense that shattered school records.

It really is worth taking a snapshot of:

Last season, Alabama smashed its all-time scoring record in a season — surpassing 2016’s record-582 points by a full 100 points (684), and put up a ridiculous 45.6 points per contest. The Crimson Tide became the first team since Princeton in 1890 to beat every opponent by 20+ points (regular season). Damien Harris set the new Alabama record for yards-per-rush over a career (6.47). Tua Tagovailoa was a Heisman and Davey O’Brien finalist, a Walter Camp and Maxwell winner, a consensus All-American, Sporting News’ national player of the year, First-Team all-SEC, and the SEC’s Offensive Player of the year, among other honors. Tua set the all-time NCAA QB efficiency mark (199.4) and posted school records for passing TDs in a game & scores in a game (6). Tua smashed AJ McCarron’s record of 30 passing TDs in a season (47); and, he scored the most touchdowns in single season by anyone in Tide history (49). Jerry Jeudy tallied the second-most single-season receiving touchdowns and second-most single-season receiving yards in school history en route to winning the Biletnikoff Trophy. JJ also set a new Alabama record for yards per reception obliterating Keith Brown’s 17.0 YPR by posting 19.3 yards per grab...and on, and on, and on.

To be sure, some of the eye-popping numbers that ‘Bama posted last season were a function of transcendent talent at every level on the field and outstanding leadership in every position group: There simply was not a weak link — when the backup Quarterback is a former SEC Player of the Year, a consensus former Freshman All-American, and the holder of about a dozen Alabama records himself, then you’re in pretty good shape. And the strength extended all the way to the sidelines and the booth.

Alas, like Pink Floyd, it is hard to keep that much talent in the same room without defections; people necessarily feel the imperative to go their own way and stake out their own legacies, even if what they leave behind is something very special indeed. One does get the feeling, that like Pink Floyd, the sum of those parts will ultimately have proven to be far stronger than the constituent components.

But, enough backward glances: Let us meet the men that Nick Saban has tabbed to try to replicate (as close as possible) last year’s results from the nation’s most explosive offense — and then must do so for a Tide team coming off its worst loss in almost two decades? In a manner that pleases one of the nation’s most demanding, finicky fanbases?

No pressure.

Offensive Coordinator/QBC: Steve Sarkisian

(Outgoing Mike Locksley, Dan Enos)

Coach Sarkisian’s offensive prowess as a collegiate playcaller and developer of quarterbacks speaks for itself. For the better part of two decades, his name has been synonymous with high-octane aerial attacks and a mix of power running and plenty of explosive plays as he evolved towards no-huddle systems. His offenses at Washington and USC have been documented extensively by us before, so we’ll instead look at his recent work product and be as fair and as objective as we can.

Like many coaches who made the leap from college to the pros, Steve Sarkisian saw much more success with amateurs. As offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons, Sark’s tenure came under fire for failing to use all of the weapons at his disposal, especially the underuse of future Hall-of-Famer Julio Jones in and near the redzone (Dirty Birds fans feel free to defend/pile on in the comments below). His Falcons teams were 15th and 11th in 2017 and 2018 in total offense. Not terribly impressive numbers, to be sure. But, dig a little deeper and you’ll note this past season his team jumped to the periphery of the Top 10 after losing versatile and crucial cog Devonta Freeman just two weeks into the season.

And, a look at the advanced stats from Football Outsiders provides an even more favorable view of Sark: The Falcons were 9th and 8th respectively in adjusted weighted offense — and finished 7th and 10th in adjusted passing. When one looks to the rushing data, you see where Freeman’s loss was apparent. In 2018, the Falcons were 21st in weighted rushing, whereas Atlanta was 16th in 2017. To be sure, both represent a dropoff from the Falcons’ Super Bowl season of 2016, where they were 2nd in adjusted offense, 1st in passing, and 6th in rushing. But, that 2016 season very much is an outlier: In 2015, the Falcons were 23rd in weighted offense (23rd pass/25th rush). In 2014, Atlanta was 12th in adjusted offense (8th passing, 23rd rushing).

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

So, what can we say here looking at a 5-year trend map with Atlanta? His offenses did not approach the same prowess of the historic one that Atlanta fielded in 2016. But, they were better than ones the Falcons fielded in the few preceding seasons . And, perhaps more encouraging to Tide fans, the Falcons had a better adjusted rushing attack under Sarkisian than in either 2014 or 2015, and both of those teams had Freeman in the backfield as well. Perception, as usual, is worse than reality here.

Now, Tide fans may still harbor questions about Coach Sarkisian’s playcalling in the 2017 College Football Playoff Championship Game, where he inexplicably dialed up over 30 passes for a freshman Jalen Hurts and negligently ignored the Tide’s running back depth on the bench: Bo Scarbrough’s second-half absence should not have been as crippling as it was. Still, Alabama did put 31 points on the board and held a lead with 1:21 left to play. Coach Sark may have been one of the goats of that game, but injuries in the secondary, mental mistakes, the Bama D’s inability to get off the field on third down, and 21-points allowed in the 4th quarter led to the collapse as much as anything — 31 points on the board with 81 seconds left should have been enough. Could the Tide have scored more? Absolutely. Should the playcalling and roster have been managed better? Yes, they should. Still, I think it is probably unfair to judge Coach Sark on a one-week hurried preparation, after being unable to directly coach any of these players from his role as an analyst. He has an excellent track record developing quarterbacks — hell, he even sent Jake Locker to the NFL. He is a lights-out recruiter. And, he has an outstanding relationship with the brothers Tagovailoa — the latter is very important, obviously.

Thus, I think it is incumbent upon Alabama fans to give Sark a chance, based upon his own merits, over 12+ games and with two full camps and months of direct contact with these players — and keeping in mind the secondary functions of the job, such as the development of the quarterbacking group and what kind of talent he attracts to the Druid City.

One thing that we needn’t worry overly much about are Coach Sark’s demons with the bottle. He has been sober now for the better part of four years. By all public accounts (and despite rumors and hearsay insinuating otherwise,) Sark has been a model citizen in prior stops at Tuscaloosa and Atlanta. Remember in yesterday’s State of the Program when I said 2019 would be year where fans must Trust the Process? Coach Saban genuinely likes Sarkisian, did not want to see him leave, and welcomed him back with open arms in 2019. This hire is perhaps one where we must suspend skepticism the most and give Saban the benefit of the doubt that he has earned: Nick doesn’t often whiff on assistant hires.

Trust the Process, until proven otherwise.

Offensive Line: Kyle Flood

(Outgoing: Brent Key)

One of the underreported aspects of building a coaching staff is the interaction between offensive coordinators and their offensive line coaches. Control over OL staff is one of the reasons that Dan Enos left for a lateral position with the second-tier Miami Hurricanes. Thus, it should not be a surprise that when Saban hired Sarkisian, the Tide obtained a two-for from the Atlanta Falcons.

Former Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood spent the last two years as the Atlanta Falcons assistant offensive line coach working with the Sark. Flood has almost two decades of progressively responsible experience, mostly running offenses: he has coached offensive lines, has been a game clock/time management coach in the NFL, has been an offensive coordinator, an associate head coach, and has been a head coach at a Power 5 program. Flood’s Tenure at Rutgers has to be considered a success, on the field at least: his was the last period of success for the Scarlet Knights, where he led an undermanned program to three bowls in his four seasons at the helm.

But, and there is a big one here, Flood also got caught red-handed violating NCAA academic policies. For that transgression, Rutgers was placed on two years of probation, and Flood personally received a one-year Show Cause from the NCAA — which he did not contest. The NCAA allegations are fairly damning, and raise serious ethical red flags about Flood:

The former head football coach failed to monitor his operations staff, which had oversight of the host group, and failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance when he violated university policy by contacting an instructor to make a special academic arrangement for a student-athlete. Another violation in the football program occurred when a former assistant football coach acted unethically when he was not truthful about a recruiting contact during his interviews with NCAA enforcement staff.

Recruiting-wise, Flood is a bit of an unknown quantity in the rough and tumble, but his early returns at Rutgers were good — he somehow managed to convince several four-star prospects to play for one of the most feeble programs in the nation. One suspects it is his ties to the fertile NJ area that helped land him the job as much as his ties to Sarkisian. Alabama has increasingly hit up the New England seaboard as its recruiting focus has become national.

He knows his business on it, and he appears to be good in the living room with momma. But, you can’t help but imagine that he will be on the shortest of all possible leashes at Alabama.

<p zoompage-fontsize="15" style="">Holmon, Wiggins, Holmon Wiggins

Wide Receivers: Holmon Wiggins

(Outgoing: Josh Gattis)

Holmon Wiggins is a true up-and-comer in the coaching ranks, and is an exceptional position coach in wide-open offenses.

In his young career, Wiggins helped Justin Fuente rebuild a left-for-dead Memphis program, and recruited four future all-conference wideouts — two of whom would go on to play in the NFL. When he followed Fuente to Virginia Tech, Wiggins helped develop Cam Phillips into a first-team All-ACC performer. Phillips went on to become the Hokies’ career leader in catches and receiving yards and is now collecting paychecks with the Buffalo Bills.

Holmon is a great recruiter of wideout talent: Over the past three years he has inked five blue chip wide receivers, including snagging two for Alabama in just three months. Impressively, his recruiting ties run up and down the Atlantic seaboard — from NOVA and the Carolinas to Georgia. He is also well-loved by players: following his departure from Tech, two Hokies immediately left the program.

Alabama’s loaded receiving corps got a great one.

Running Back Coach: Charles Huff

Nick Saban may not have the results of Penn State’s James Franklin, but there’s no doubt that Franklin had a helluva recruiting staff. Charles Huff is the second Franklin position coach that Nick Saban has now hired, and was the recruiting ace for Joe Moorhead when the latter left to become the head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. And, my god, were CLANGA fans mad when Huff (and Brian Baker) bailed for Tuscaloosa. That’s always a good sign.

Another young coach (he’s just 35), Huff’s results speak for themselves. He coached Saquon Barkley to a much-deserved Heisman Trophy and a First Round NFL draft pick. He has recruited five blue-chippers lately, snagging three five-stars — and, yes, he secured the commitment of Chris Braswell for the Tide, outrecruiting Clemson down the stretch. Like Wiggins, and Gattis/Locksley before him, Huff has deep ties to the NOVA/MD region, and that has been his most fertile hunting ground.

And, like Holmon Wiggins, Huff is another up-and-comer with a great recruiting track record, excellent on-field production, a very bright future in front of him, and a garage full of toys to play with in 2019. I think we should also mention that Huff is a stand-up guy — you should read his departure letter to the MSU fans.

The new staff contains a very nice mixture of youth and experience; of good position coaches and knockout recruiters. There are also some questions, to be sure. But the greatest one, to my mind at least, is not if Alabama can replicate 2018’s success, but can the Tide keep a staff for more than 11 months this time around?


How do you grade the new offensive staff?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    (338 votes)
  • 31%
    (178 votes)
  • 2%
    (12 votes)
  • 0%
    (3 votes)
  • 7%
    I came to yell about the basketball team
    (43 votes)
574 votes total Vote Now