The ink has dried on everything to be written about last season. The book is closed on 2018. It is time to write the story of 2019.
With a month to go until Alabama begins chapter one against Duke in Atlanta, Roll Bama Roll will preview the cast of characters in this fledgling tome. It begins with the coaching staff.
Nitpickers. Nick Saban has an astounding record of 146-21 to go with five National Championships in 12 seasons at the Capstone, yet the national media still has to pick at him. The latest hawt taek du jour is coaching turnover. And perhaps it is a bit justified.
Alabama has had a good deal of turnover as of late but as we have documented, most of the departures have been because of promotion or retirement. After the NCAA felt it necessary to throw a wrench into the college football engine by adding an early signing period in December 2017 for the Class of 2018, it caught Saban a little off guard and the Tide ended up with (gasp) the fifth best class in the nation. While such a result would be a delight to 120-some other programs, that recruiting circuit rattled him a bit.
After that first Early Signing Period resulted in some disappointing flips, coupled with Jeremy Pruitt taking the job in Knoxville and Burton Burns retiring to a desk, Saban sensed a deficiency in recruiting. Bama’s head man will always value coaching ability in his assistants. However with five openings to fill that time around, he emphasized recruiting ability over perceived loyalty. While being highly-qualified coaches who amped recruiting back up, a few of those new guys already had an eye on the door before the 2018 campaign had come to full conclusion. Once again, the Crimson Tide saw several coaches leaving for other jobs. A few others were just poor fits.
This past off-season, Alabama found themselves with seven round holes to fill. Saban would not be taking square pegs this time.
Although the Tide has seven new coaches, there is a good bit of familiarity.
Many have touted Pete Golding as the next great defensive mind in football. Nick Saban plucked him out of near obscurity at UTSA and made him co-defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach for 2018. Little did the public know, he was basically the de facto head defensive coordinator during this past campaign. He was officially promoted to the DC post in February.
Last season, the Tide was replacing an entire secondary. Coming into this fall, Golding has returning starters or highly experienced players at basically every position, as well as some bulls on the defensive line. Only 35 years old, Bama’s DC brings enthusiasm to field and he is a strong recruiter. Watching his defense evolve should be fun for Crimson Tide fans.
Karl Scott may be one of the most underappreciated members of the staff. As cornerbacks coach, he has helped mold young defenders such as Patrick Surtain II and Josh Jobe into potential breakout stars.
Jeff Banks returns as special teams coordinator/tight end coach. With tight ends Irv Smith Jr., Hale Hentges, and Kedrick James gone, Banks may have the toughest job at finding replacements. He also has the uphill tasks of finding consistency at punter and kicker. His saving grace is Jaylen Waddle as punt returner, as well as exemplary coverage teams.
In a curious move, Steve Sarkisian is back as offensive coordinator. Saban originally rescued Sark after his disgraceful exit from Southern Cal, making him a offensive analyst for 2016. He held that position until OC Lane Kiffin started mailing it in after accepting the FAU job and was fired. Sarkisian was promoted to OC on January 2, 2017 and called the plays for the National Championship loss to Clemson. Some observers lauded his performance as a one-game OC, while others did not approve of his decision to lean on Bo Scarbrough in the second half while ignoring Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris. In a surprise move, he soon after departed Alabama for a failed two year tenure with the Atlanta Falcons. Saban has always been about giving guys second chances, but the jury is still out in this case.
The return of prodigal son Sal Sunseri as outside linebackers coach feels so right. This is his second tour of duty with Alabama (2009–2011) and he has brought along his two sons in former Tide headhunter/safety Vinnie and former Pitt quarterback Tino as grad assistants. Papa Sunseri brings a welcomed tenacity to his coaching and he feels like he is “home”. His and Vinnie’s understanding of the notion of the “Alabama Factor” should help make a smooth transition. Despite being a new hire, it just feels like a family member returning to the fold.
Although new to the Crimson Tide staff, there is some familiarity in the newcomers.
Charles Huff (Associate head coach/Running backs coach) and Brian Baker (Associate head coach/Defensive line coach) both come to Tuscaloosa from the Mississippi State staff. Baker had 19 years of NFL coaching experience before joining the Bulldogs in Starkville. Huff has 14 years as a college assistant and one season with the Bills.
Charles Kelly was born and bred in Alabama. You will have to excuse him seeing how he went to Auburn where he was an undersized walk-on. Kelly was previously the defensive coordinator at FSU under Saban disciple Jimbo Fisher, plus a year with Pruitt at Tennessee. Before that, he spent seven season at Georgia Tech. He also coached some high school ball in state as well as at Jacksonville State. Kelly’s title is Associate Defensive Coordinator/Safeties coach.
The hiring of Kyle Flood as offensive line coach might be the stealthiest hire of the year. After a pretty good job as head coach at Rutgers (23-16, 3 bowls in 3 seasons), he was forced out after his players kept making the Fulmer Cup highlights every week. [Incidentally, the Scarlet Knights have gone 7–29 since his departure and also won the Fulmer in 2018.] Flood was on the Falcons staff with Sarkisian for the past two season in charge of the OL. The Falcons had promoted him to a game/clock management role a week before he followed Sark to Tuscaloosa. He is considered a fine OL coach by many insiders.
Wide receivers coach Holmon Wiggins comes to Alabama from Virginia Tech where he served under head coach Justin Fuente. He also worked for Fuente at Memphis for four seasons (2012-15). There is no connection to Alabama or the SEC on his resume. He gets the luxury of coaching the best receiving corps in the nation.
Alabama has twelve analysts (how long until the NCAA makes another “Saban Rule”?). A few of the names are quite recognizable.
- Javier Arenas - Former Bama DB/KR.
- Nick Perry - Former Bama DB.
- Butch Jones - Former Tennessee, Cincy, CMU head coach. We joke about him but he has a good football mind and the players love him.
- Major Applewhite - Former Alabama OC, Texas OC, and Houston head coach.
- Mike Stoops - Former Arizona head coach, Oklahoma DC, brother of Bob and Mark.
- Joe Houston - Former special teams coordinator at Iowa State, Southern Cal kicker.
- AJ Milwee - Former Akron OC.
- Johnathan Galante - Va Tech grad assistant.
- Alex Mortensen - Alabama grad assistant, son of ESPN NFL analyst Chris Mortensen.
- Gordon Steele - South Alabama grad assistant, son of Auburn DC Kevin Steele.
- Dean Altobelli - Played DB at Michigan State under DC Saban, former lawyer.
- Isaac Shewmaker - Alabama grad assistant (2019).
Back for his 13th season as Strength and conditioning:
Assistant Head Strength and Conditioning Coach
- Terry Jones Sr. - former NFL and Bama defensive tackle under Bear Bryant, father of former Bama tight end Terry Jones Jr.
Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coaches:
- Kindal Moorehead - former NFL and Bama defensive tackle.
- Josh Chapman - former NFL and Bama nose/defensive tackle.
- Tyler Owens - former Bama walk-on linebacker.