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The All-Saban Underappreciated Team: The Offensive Coordinator

I know. You’re still mad about the end of the 2012 Texas A&M game, aren’t you?

Discover BCS National Championship Game - Notre Dame v Alabama Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

That’s a wrap for the offense, folks.

Now, we have to find someone to coach ‘em up.

Alabama has gone through offensive coordinators like a kid tearing through her Easter basket, with each getting gobbled up and and then pooped out real quick. For Lane Kiffin, Jim McElwain and Mike Locksley, that meant a head coaching job. Brian Daboll headed to the Elysium Fields of the NFL. Steve Sarkisian is still on his redemption tour, so that tenure is a work in progress. Dan Enos and Josh Gattis had bizarre and uncertain roles, so we’ll leave them out. Major Applewhite got an assistant head coaching job at his alma mater — but was vying to be its coach in waiting. That decision may seem like a demotion on paper, but encouraged to skeedaddle or not, it is a calculated decision I think we’d all make.

That leaves only one coach that moved on to a lateral-ish position, and who was rumored to have been strongly encouraged to do so — Doug Nussmeier, West Coast protege of Jim McElwain. It is hard to pinpoint exactly why his tenure was so heavily criticized by fans.

In Jim McElwain’s last season, 2011, the Alabama offense was 20th in per-possession scoring, 27th in touchdown rate, 20th in first down rate, and a woeful 41st in explosive plays. That season the Tide averaged 34.8 ppg, good for just 20th overall in scoring, and had four games where it scored fewer than 28 points.

When Nussmeier came in and took over the offense, he inherited the stout running back tandem of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. Not being a dummy, and working within the Tide’s established zone blocking scheme, he ran the offense through those two. But, the offense had approximately the same run-pass ratio as the 2011 champions. Yet, in Nussmeier’s first season, the offensive output was significantly better.

In 2012, the Tide’s PPG output vaulted to 38.7 ppg (12th) ,and its overall efficiency was 7th in the country. More granularly, Alabama’s explosive plays jumped to 7th overall, 13th in touchdown rate, and 5th in per-possession scoring. The Crimson Tide was held to fewer than 28 points just twice.

His 2013 campaign would see similar results (and, in a few cases, better results). Alabama led the nation in explosive plays. It was 7th in overall touchdown rate, and 9th in per-possession scoring. The Tide again averaged 38.2 ppg (17th), and (again) only had two contests where it was held under 28 points.

During that span, Alabama went 22-2 in the regular season and 24-3 overall. It won an SEC title and the 2012 BCS National Championship. And he made A.J. McCarron a star: AJ finished as the Heisman Trophy runner-up, the Unitas Golden Arm winner and the Maxwell winner.

It is understandable why Nick Saban wanted to make a change following the 2013 season. The game was moving increasingly towards the spread and working with tempo. The Alabama offense was unable to keep up consistently in those shootouts if it could not control the line of scrimmage or had defensive lapses — those back-to-back Oklahoma and Auburn particularly left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

But, for whatever reason, the fandom held a lot of animus for Doug Nussmeier that his results simply do not deserve...even if those ridiculous goal line passes drove everyone nuts.