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Data Deep Dive: The Tommy Rees Résumé (such as it is)

I’m trying to be fair here, but numbers don’t lie. You may want to grab an adult beverage first.

NCAA Football: Toledo at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve spent 30 hours ranting offline, but old man yelling at the clouds did no good apparently. Nick Saban has pulled the trigger on 30-year-old Tommy Rees to run the Alabama offense.

As you will recall, several years ago Nick Saban also grew smitten with another Domer offensive coordinator that wasn’t exactly lighting up the coaching carousel and was hardly in demand — Chip Long. Perhaps it’s his age and fonder memories of a Notre Dame mystique? His respect for Brian Kelly? The high-level, high profile pressure cooker that Notre Dame presents? Sexy 3-yard out routes on 3rd and 7? Whatever it is, this guy is that guy’s replacement.

And, whatever it is, there’s something about Notre Dame’s dink-and-dunk, short, lateral offense that has Nick Saban in thrall. So, here we are.

I’m going to try and be as fair as possible here, but the data are what the data are. And analytically, the decision is beyond baffling: it’s downright awful.

At best, Rees has proven to be just a guy. For him to morph into some wunderkind will require Alabama to pay millions for a learning curve, and grow into an offensive mind that three years experience suggest do not exist. At worst, it’s a calamitous hire on paper, with a far worse CV than anyone Nick Saban has ever brought into Tuscaloosa to run the offense.

Yes, yes, Daboll. I know. But Brian Kelly is hardly Bill Belichick, the offense Notre Dame runs is is no way similar to what Alabama has had in place for over half a decade. It is a deliberative, slower paced one that does not move the ball vertically. It has little explosion beyond broken tackles by the running backs. It is a scheme that relies heavily on a powerful interior offensive line (that Alabama does not have), and game-breaking athletic tight ends (that Alabama also has not shown to possess — or at least do not employ). And it simply does not put world-class speed and skill into space.

Here are the numbers, and they simply are what they are:

2020 season:

Scoring offense: 30th (30.4 PPG)
Expected PPG vs. Power 5: -3.8
Expected PPG vs. Top 25: -8.16
SOS: 44th

% Production vs. Expected Output: -9%
Off. Efficiency: 18th
Per-Play Efficiency: 26th
Per-Drive Efficiency: 59th

Negative Drive Efficiency: 11th
Explosive Efficiency: 32nd
% Explosive Drives: 60%
Plays +20 yards: 66th (25)

Rushing Efficiency: 14th
RYPA: 48th (4.42)
Passing Efficiency: 43rd
PYPA: 47th (7.9)
QBR: 44th

3rd down conversions: 7th (49.47%)

Best Analytical Game: 45-3 W at Pitt, 47-40 Home OT W vs. Clemson
Worst Analytical Game: 12-7 W vs. Louisville, 10-34 L ACCCG
Times held under 38 Points (Saban’s Magic Number): Six

2021 Season:

Scoring offense: 19th (35.2 PPG)
Expected PPG vs. Power 5: -1.3
Expected PPG vs. Top 25: -4.7
SOS: 46th

% Production vs. Expected Output: -7%
Off. Efficiency: 25th
Per-Play Efficiency: 44th
Per-Drive Efficiency: 10th

Negative Drive Efficiency: 50th
Explosive Efficiency: 32nd
% Explosive Drives: 57%
Plays +20 yards: 33rd (33)

Rushing Efficiency: 57th
RYPA: 72nd (4.14)
Passing Efficiency: 13th
QBYPA: 37th (8.1)
QBR: 32nd

3rd down conversions: 46th (42.24%)

Best Analytical Game: 55-0 W vs. Georgia Tech
Worst Analytical Game: 13-24 Home loss vs. Cincinnati
Times held under 38 Points (Saban’s Magic Number): Eight


Scoring offense: 30th (30.4 PPG)
Expected PPG vs. Power 5: -8.3
Expected PPG vs. Top 25: -16.25
SOS: 55th

% Production vs. Expected Output: -10.1%
Off. Efficiency: 37th
Per-Play Efficiency: 26th
Per-Drive Efficiency: 59th

Negative Drive Efficiency: 11th
Explosive Efficiency: 32nd
% Explosive Drives: 60%
Plays +20 yards: 55th (25)

Rushing Efficiency: 14th
RYPA: 48th (4.42)
Passing Efficiency: 43rd
PYPA: 47th (7.9)
QBR: 32nd

3rd down conversions: 13th (47.13%)

Best Analytical Game: 55-0 W vs. Georgia Tech, 35-14 Home W vs. Clemson
Worst Analytical Game: 10-14 L @ Ohio State, 26-21 Home L vs. Marshall,
Times held under 38 Points (Saban’s Magic Number): Nine


So, what do we make of these numbers? There are some takeaways, and few are pleasant, I hate to say.

The Good:

  • Consistent production. Sure, he aims for “above average” and gets there in most every thing. But it’s also consistently mediocre. There are few things you can call elite in this, and none that I personally would.
  • Third Down %: On the whole, ND was a good third down team. But see that caveat above describing the scheme? It was meant to be. This is a grinding scheme that has to get ahead of the chains. When it doesn’t, as in 2022, the offense suffers. A lot. If you will notice, Alabama does not exactly have the offensive line to try and play this style of football any more. And I simply don’t see that changing anytime soon — OL is not a unit that rapidly morphs from meh to godly overnight.
  • Good drive efficiency: Once again, this is an offense meant to drive the field, chew clock. That should not be a surprise.
  • Negative plays: It generally did a good job minimizing negative plays

The Bad:

  • Underperformance of output: In every single year, in almost every single category, Notre Dame underperformed expected offensive output.
  • Underperformance of scoring: Sure, the offense may have driven the field pretty well at Notre Dame, but Rees was simply awful at converting that into points. In 40 career games as an offensive coordinator, Rees went under the 38 point mark 24 times. He hit 40+ points just 8 times, and only twice hit half a hundy. This was absolutely feast or famine...and 60% of the time, it was famine.
  • Negative Drives: While it didn’t give up a bunch of negative plays, over 50% of the time, the drives did not cash in.
  • Awful in big games: Against ranked teams, Rees was simply out of his depth. His teams were sub. -500 against other ranked opponents, and were held to 20 or fewer points four times in nine tries. That is simply unacceptable.
  • Complete lack of explosion: DYK — Alabama had more plays over 30 yards in one year than ND put up in Rees’ three seasons? Yeah. It’s bad. And even those explosive numbers that look good, they’re plays between 10-20 yards. That can work, for sure, if you have the right roster. But don’t expect many home runs.
  • Red Zone Collapse: The offense can drive the field, but it can’t get it done when real estate is tight. If Alabama is moving a more conservative direction, and thus more pressure will be on the defense, then converting drives will be a greater imperative than ever. Rees has not shown he can do that.

Overall, it is an offense for a team of limited athleticism, meant to slowly grind, and take advantage of the strengths of that particular team that Kelly built: running backs, offensive line, and game managers under center.

It remains to be seen how that will translate against far more athletic and schematically complex defenses, far more difficult opponents, and if Rees can actually develop a quarterback (Ian Book is his “best” work, and Chip Long did half of that development). Because even against ND’s average schedule, Rees’s results were only ever above average at his best moments — and against far worse opponents than he will face in the SEC.

Some have suggested that Saban got a woody watching Georgia this year, and he wants a return to that Monken-type offense; that he’s trend-chasing Georgia. But this team lacks the line, lacks the coaching continuity, so far lacks the gamechanging tight end, does not have a veteran QB, is built for speed and RPOs, is stacked with fast athletes rather than powerful ones. Can Alabama get there again? Oh, sure. But it would not be an overnight rebuild, even if that’s what he’s aiming for: this roster would have to be completely retooled from the ground-up.

There is a huge caveat to all this: All of this of course assumes that Rees will even run that sort of scheme. That is all that I can base the data on, however. I pray that I am wrong, and that Nick Saban throws ‘Bama’s existing playbook at Rees and tells him to get cracking. Because, if this is what is brought into Tuscaloosa, then to borrow a phrase from a friend of mine “this has a whole lot of third-in-the-West vibes”.

You can be forgiven for being underwhelmed here. No one is going to confuse the foul fruit dropping off this branch of the Brian Kelly tree as being even remotely palatable. Let’s hope he’s a better coach than he has shown, and that Nick Saban has identified a diamond in the rough just waiting to shine.

I’m going to be holding my breath until I see it, however. I am only judging Rees on what he has done: this is about the numbers only. And at the moment, based on the evidence, I don’t see much reason to even be cautiously optimistic that Alabama’s offense will return to the consistently elite.


Grade the Tommy Rees hire based upon his results

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    (51 votes)
  • 22%
    A/A- I’ll have to trust Saban on this one
    (299 votes)
  • 23%
    B+ Maybe he’ll be a lot better with a lot better athletes?
    (317 votes)
  • 6%
    B/B- above average should be enough
    (87 votes)
  • 19%
    C-ish: He’s just a guy, and I don’t see that changing
    (264 votes)
  • 12%
    D-ish: This is absolutely awful.
    (159 votes)
  • 5%
    F-ish: My fall just cleared up to concentrate on baskeball
    (73 votes)
  • 5%
    Incomplete / Other / Below
    (73 votes)
1323 votes total Vote Now