In early October, we began hearing the rumblings of O’Brien-to-New England to become the Pats’ offensive coordinator.
On paper, and deductively, it made sense: O’Brien turned down several suitors for college opportunities; despite having a QB win the Heisman, he did not renegotiate or extend his contract with the Tide; O’Brien is a football nerd — he just wants to coach, and has always preferred the purity of the NFL game (his eyes looking towards the Shield has been one of college football’s warning signs since his tenure with Penn State); and Bill Belichick simply decided to not hire a proven OC. Rather, the NFL GOAT went with a Frankenmonster of Matt Patricia as a playcaller and Joe Judge at QBC — that signaled to everyone that he was saving the opening for someone, and that someone was likely Bill O’Brien if he was available.
So, it should come as no surprise that after interviewing late last week with New England, the job was extended to BoB, and he will be departing Tuscaloosa.
It is fair to say that there were mixed results. Alabama produced its first-ever Heisman winner at Quarterback, yet at the same time was far too reliant on the passing game, late game YOLO drives, and third down conversions. Overall scoring dipped a bit, as did explosive plays, and at the same time six of the ten worst offensive performances of the last decade occurred on his watch. But Alabama was masterful on third downs, keeping the chains alive — they led the nation last season, and were third this season. That led to overall drive efficiency, even as per-play efficiency dropped.
It’s unfair to lay all of those woes at O’Brien’s feet.
Young’s height limited the playbook in many respects, particularly with the RPO game and quick looks over the middle. And when BoB’s pre-game scheming worked, it worked from the jump. But O’Brien also possessed little facility making in-game adjustments; he was almost willfully blind to the offensive line issues the Tide faced, choosing to call far too many slow-developing plays and imperiling his young quarterback and field position; he refused to ride the hot hand at running back; and he was almost-preternaturally bad at adjusting to the flow of the game, especially with offensive spacing. I don’t think we’ve seen that many Alabama wide receivers wandering around in that much traffic since they were crossing the road in third grade.
But, we should note on the way out the door, that Bill O’Brien was absolutely nothing but a class act during his time at the University of Alabama. As he has always done, he kept his down; he was uncontroversial; he busted his ass every day and every week; he recruited at an absurdly elite level; he was adroit with handling criticism and job rumors. In all respects, he showed true grace and professionalism.
Even the way that he departed — waiting for the transfer portal to close before interviewing for his next opportunity — is a model for the next generation of coaches. Hell, it’s a model for professionals everywhere, in any capacity.
While there are criticisms to be had of O’Brien’s on-field product, you can say nothing else about his time in Tuscaloosa except class act. There is a reason he was loved by parents, respected by players, and earned the trust of both the greatest NFL head coach of all time, and the greatest to ever do it in college.
I’m sure we will have more to say later on O’Brien’s tenure with the Tide, as well as carousel rumors and wish lists. But for now, thank you for your time and best of luck, Coach O’Brien — go get Mac Jones head on right. He’s going to shiv Matt Patricia.