If you’re a fan of college football there is a high chance, you’ve spent the last 16 seasons in deep jealousy of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Few have come close to matching what Bama’s done at any point under Nick Saban, and none have done it over the entirety of Saban’s run. But the rate at which the bubble on Alabama’s exceptionalism popped came about as swiftly as Saban’s retirement did last week.
Twenty-eight players (and counting) from the Tide’s two-deep have entered or reportedly intend to enter the transfer portal. Bama has had plenty of players enter in previous cycles under Saban, but they weren’t at the level of the difference makers that went in today.
Spend more than 5 minutes on Twitter right now, and you’ll see just how much the entire country is reveling in every single piece of bad news for Alabama. They’ve waited 17 years, and even when they thought they finally had their downfall back in September, Alabama rose up and went on to make the playoffs anyway.
Sure, Nick Saban retired. The best coach to ever do it. Definitely in college football... Possibly in any sport. And Alabama is hurting.
However, the Tide also just turned right around and nabbed the #1 up-and-coming coach in all of college football - and in doing so picked up the one thing that the Tide lacked for most of Saban’s tenure outside of a 2-year window in 2019-2020: a high-flying, creative passing scheme.
There was inevitably going to be roster churn. The DB room in particular has taken some unexpected losses with the departure of coach Travaris Robinson apparently making a big splash. But the rest? Most everyone else that has entered the transfer portal were players getting passed on the depth chart, or had been rumored to be going to leave before Saban retired anyway.
As of right now, assuming all that have entered the portal stay in the portal, Alabama is still slated to have a starting 22 depth chart that consists of ELEVEN 5-star recruits and only a single 3-star.
On top of that, Alabama should have about 8 scholarship spots open to raid the transfer portal when it opens back up.
Plus, I hear there’s a couple of other good players available right now, such as a freshman All-American Center:
Washington OL Parker Brailsford has scheduled a visit to Alabama for this weekend, per @247Sports.— Sidelines - Bama (@SSN_Alabama) January 18, 2024
Brailsford started at every single game for the Huskies in 2023- 2 at right guard, 13 at center. pic.twitter.com/OfrMgQIaLp
And an All-Pac 12 cornerback:
Washington transfer DB Jabbar Muhammad expected to visit Alabamahttps://t.co/0SEInyPFs3— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) January 17, 2024
(seriously though, I have always been partial to the Husky program, and what they’re going through right now is just as, if not more, brutal than Alabama’s situation. I feel bad for them... but I am still all for Alabama taking any of their best players).
In other words, Alabama is getting an upgrade in offensive scheme from whatever mess they tried to run the last three years under Bill O’Brien and Tommy Rees, and Coach Kalen DeBoer is getting the best collection of talent he’s ever seen to run it.
It may not all work out, especially immediately, but it’s FAR from an assured downfall like the rest of college football is hoping for.
Anyway, all of Alabama’s veteran leaders seem to have bought in, even if a chunk of the younger players have all bailed. Check out this awesome piece from ESPN’s Chris Low:
“He’s passionate about it. That’s why he’s here, to win championships, and we still have elite players on our roster to do it,” Lawson said. “I’m sure he will get even more elite players as we go forward, because they’re going to want to play for him.”
Booker joked that following in the footsteps of Saban wasn’t for everybody. Not only did Alabama win six national championships under Saban, but the Crimson Tide won 11 or more games in 15 of the past 16 seasons under him. They’ve won two of the past three SEC championships, both times beating No. 1 Georgia, and have been in the College Football Playoff all but two years of its existence.
“With our fans, and I love our fans, but they’re really tough,” Booker said. “Following the greatest coach of all time is a gutsy thing to do, and it was going to be for whoever they brought in. But Coach DeBoer is wired for it. I’m excited to go out there with him and see what we can do. People counted us out after the Texas game and then the South Florida game this year, and we made it all the way to the playoff. People will count us out again because we lost Coach Saban and some guys to portal.
“We know what they think of us, so let’s go out there and prove ‘em wrong again.”
Moore added: “I told Coach DeBoer the night we met that it takes a man to come in here behind Coach Saban and take this job on. And then you sit there and listen to the vision he has for this program, and that says a lot about him and who he is.”
Malachi Moore, Deontae Lawson, Tyler Booker, and Jalen Milroe are all vocally stepping up to support the new coach and the team. And lest someone try to tell you that Alabama’s best players are all leaving, let’s run through the accolades of these four veteran leaders:
Former Freshman All-American defensive back, Former 5-star linebacker, Former 5-star and All-SEC offensive lineman, and a Heisman-contending QB. That’s a leadership group right there.
Next, things are still in flux, but the coaching stuff under Kalen DeBoer is coming together. We’ll have a full piece (or 5) on RBR in the future looking at all of the new coaches, but for now, here’s our next flurry of moves:
Kalen DeBoer is adding a second sitting FBS head coach to his Alabama coaching staff, with Buffalo’s Maurice Linguist agreeing to take a job on the Crimson Tide’s defensive staff, sources told ESPN on Tuesday.
Linguist will be Alabama’s co-defensive coordinator and also will coach defensive backs, a source said.
Before moving to the NFL, Linguist coached cornerbacks at Texas A&M (2018-19), defensive backs at Minnesota (2017), safeties at Mississippi State (2016) and defensive backs at Iowa State (2014-15). Linguist is also highly regarded as a recruiter.
Linguist is a strong recruiter and has a whole lot of experience in the SEC and NFL, plus was another active head coach willing to take a role with Coach DeBoer as an assistant coach. Seems like a great hire all around.
Chris Hummer and Matt Zenitz of 247Sports reported Wednesday several Crimson Tide staff members will not be part of DeBoer’s new staff in Tuscaloosa.
Former Boston College offensive coordinator and analyst John McNulty and former LSU quarterback and analyst Zach Mettenberger are reportedly out.
Former NFL head coach and senior advisor to the head coach Ken Whisenhunt and former college head coach Charlie Strong are also not expected to be part of the staff.
2023 Alabama offensive coaches Tommy Rees and Eric Wolford were replaced by Ryan Grubb and Scott Huff. It is now being reported that 2023 linebackers coach Robert Bala won’t be retained as well.
Many reports already stated defensive line coach Freddie Roach and running backs coach Robert Gillespie were being retained from the previous regime. However 247Sports indicates former Alabama player and analyst Jamey Mosley will be retained along with analyst George Banko as well.
South Alabama assistant head coach and director of football athletic performance Matt Shadeed is leaving the program for a job on the Alabama staff, AL.com has confirmed.
Football Scoop is reporting that Shadeed will work closely with Kane Wommack, the former Jaguars head coach who left Tuesday to become the Crimson Tide defensive coordinator. However, Shadeed’s position is not expected to involve strength and conditioning, which is where his background lies.
At this point, I believe that DeBoer is currently missing a dedicated linebackers coach and a special teams coach, so I’d expect those two spots to be hired soon.
Who is the “new” Nick Saban? Almost two decades of unparalleled success at one school, year-in, year-out national championship contenders, the gold standard by which all other programs are measured. Kirby Smart has had the success but not the longevity (yet). Is it Dabo Swinney? Little ole Dabo seems to have both. Is it blasphemy to put Dabo on the same level as Saban? — Todd B., Greenville, S.C.
Saban and Dabo were on the same level four years ago. I listed them 1a and 1b in my annual Top 25 coaches rankings as recently as 2020, shortly after they’d split four national titles and four head-to-head CFP meetings from 2015-18. But Dabo has already suffered the type of dropoff that Saban somehow avoided for 16 straight seasons. Clemson went 4-4 in the ACC last season. Saban did not lose even three SEC games in his last 13 seasons. Dabo may well coach Clemson for another 20 years, but it sure looks like his mini-dynasty in the back half of the 2010s was an isolated moment in time.
With the panic around getting a new coach hired and trying to keep a roster out of the transfer portal, we’ve not yet spent enough time talking about Nick Saban himself.
Here’s a good mailbag piece from Stewart Mandel talking about it, plus spending some time on other topics, including the popularity of college vs the NFL.