TAMPA, Fla. – They are the coaches behind the coaches, pouring over hours of video and logging plays. They spot trends and make suggestions. Their work produces the building blocks of a game plan.
They have duties similar to graduate assistants, but without having to juggle all that school work. They have titles such as quality control coach, administrative assistant and analyst. Analyst was Steve Sarkisian’s job at Alabama until a week before the biggest game of the season when he was promoted to offensive coordinator .
The former Southern California coach will be calling plays for the Crimson Tide, replacing Lane Kiffin when No. 1 Alabama (14-0) faces Clemson (13-1) on Monday in the College Football Playoff national championship game.
“We’d still watch a lot of tape, still try to game plan, then offer up as much advice as I could to the game plan, then to the coaches,” Sarkisian said Saturday. “Then it was more sit back and analyze how we were performing.”
The NCAA allows just nine coaches to directly instruct players on the field during practice and games. Four graduate assistant coaches are also permitted. Those spots are generally held by aspiring coaches and they must be working on a graduate degree. They are allowed to work with players at practice and be on the field during games, but the bulk of their work is in the film room.
At powerhouse schools such as Alabama and Clemson support staffs have grown in recent years to include coaches that don’t carry whistles. Sarkisian, who was fired by USC during the 2015 season, was hired by Alabama coach Nick Saban as an analyst earlier this year.
Former New Mexico coach Mike Locksley, who was most recently the offensive coordinator at Maryland, is also an offensive analyst for Alabama. As is Charlie Weis Jr., the son of the former Notre Dame and Kansas coach, and former Crimson Tide offensive lineman William Vlachos. Dean Altobelli, a former Michigan attorney who played for Saban at Michigan State, has been a defensive analyst at Alabama since 2010.
They generally make about $45,000 per year, at least at the start. Clemson’s senior analysts make up to $90,000.
“You want to talk about the lifeblood of the operational football part, the X and Os part?” Alabama offensive line coach Mario Cristobal said. “They are essential and critical.”
Alabama has nine analysts on staff. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has five analysts, including senior offensive analyst Mickey Conn and defensive analyst Kyle Richardson.
Derrick Ansley was a graduate assistant for Saban in 2010 and ’11 and rejoined the staff this season as defensive backs coach. He said many of the duties of a graduate assistant are similar to what analysts do. The analysts just have more time to do them.
“When I was a GA I had to break down the entire offensive opponent,” Ansley said. “The details that we put into it is kind of what separates us a little bit.”
What does an opponent run on third-and-4 or more? Against a four-man front? Against a three-man front? How about on third-and-3 or less? In the red zone? In their own end? All that type of information is gathered and given to position coaches, coordinators and the head coach.
“He’s watching it all, but you come in and give him a little something he may have missed because you’re studying that,” Ansley said.
Alabama wide receiver Gehrig Dieter is a graduate transfer from Bowling Green. After spending two seasons at the Mid-American Conference school and one at SMU before that, Dieter could see the benefit of all the additional input.
“There’s so many people on our staff any time you have a question it kind of gets answered,” Dieter said. “Not that it doesn’t at Bowling Green, but you just have so many eyes on you at all times so you kind of get the most accurate answers possible.”
The other benefit comes when it is time to hit the recruiting trail. Only the nine full-time assistants can recruit.
“We get done playing Florida in the SEC championship game, immediately we’re on the road recruiting,” Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said. “Well, somebody’s got to be breaking down Washington, Ohio State, Clemson. Those guys do a job from a breakdown standpoint so when you walk in they can hand it to it you and say, `Hey, this is kind of what these guys do.“’
Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said the Tigers’ analysts are as involved in the game plans as any staffer and their input during games can be vital.
“The great thing about it is they’re just an extension of your eyes,” Elliott said. “They understand what the game plan is. They understand what the adjustments are. They understand the things that cause us problems.”
Ultimately, all these extra staffers give programs such as Alabama and Clemson more people to do more tasks more efficiently.
“Manpower,” Ansley said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.