TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Blue-chip players aren’t the only ones who come and go on Alabama’s sidelines. The Crimson Tide’s success has led to a turnover on coach Nick Saban’s staff as well.
Saban had to recruit six assistant coaches during the offseason while elevating two others to coordinator positions. He landed a group he’s hoping will help the top-ranked Crimson Tide contend for not only more championships but more of the nation’s top prospects.
Saban described the group as one of the best recruiting staffs of his tenure at Alabama, a run that includes a seven-year streak of No. 1 recruiting classes end this year.
“The new energy and enthusiasm and ideas that they brought to the organization, I think, are going to be a long-term positive,” Saban said.
The two linchpins – offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi – were promoted within the staff. Three Saban coordinators have taken head coaching jobs the past three years, including Georgia’s Kirby Smart, Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt and Florida Atlantic’s Lane Kiffin.
Ex-assistant Mario Cristobal was named Oregon’s head coach last December after a year as the Ducks’ co-offensive coordinator.
Both Lupoi and Locksley joined Alabama’s program as analysts before assistant positions opened up.
Locksley is a former offensive coordinator at Illinois and Maryland, where he finished the 2016 season as interim head coach. Unlike his recent predecessors, he works with wide receivers instead of the quarterbacks. Locksley has said he’ll defer to Saban on the final decision to name the starting quarterback between Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa.
Unlike Pruitt and Smart, Lupoi will work with outside linebackers instead of the defensive backs. The former California defensive lineman is a first-time defensive coordinator who has been groomed by Saban for bigger things.
“I think he’s really developed as a coach,” the head coach said. “I think he’s taken it upon himself to not want to be a guy that was viewed just as a recruiter or just as a guy that could coach the front.
“He’s really, really committed himself to learning the big picture, the coverages, the secondary. I spent a significant amount of time with him doing that.”
Saban noted that the transition from coordinators Pruitt and Brian Daboll (now with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills) has been “pretty painless.” After all, they’re running ‘Bama’s system with their own individual touch not the other way around.
“We’ve learned a lot,” quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said. “It’s a lot different now from last year. Last year we didn’t really have a certified, specific position coach and now that we do, it gives us the opportunity to have someone really hone in and focus in on our position.”
Here’s a look at Alabama’s other new coaches:
- Jeff Banks, special teams coordinator/tight ends: Held the same job the past five years at Texas A&M under then-coach Kevin Sumlin. A former all-conference punter at Washington State, he must replace both punter JK Scott and placekicker Andy Pappanastos.
- Dan Enos, Associate head coach, quarterbacks: Hired at Michigan in January 2018 and left for Tuscaloosa the following month. A former Central Michigan head coach, spent three seasons as Arkansas’s offensive coordinator and QBs coach, where both Brandon Allen and Austin Allen had 3,000-yard passing seasons. Locksley continues to work with the wide receivers.
- Pete Golding, co-defensive coordinators/inside linebackers: A former defensive coordinator at several smaller schools, he provides another experienced voice that could help Lupoi acclimate to his new role.
- Josh Gattis, co-offensive coordinator, wide receivers: Saban calls the 34-year-old “an outstanding recruiter” with a promising future. Has spent six of his eight years in coaching working under James Franklin at Vanderbilt and Penn State.
- Craig Kuligowski, associate head coach/defensive line: Spent the past two seasons at the University of Miami after a 15-year stay at Missouri.
- Karl Scott, defensive backs: Has the huge assignment of replacing arguably Alabama’s top six defensive backs but has a terrific “graduate assistant” in Saban, who also works with the DBs in practice. Left Texas Tech to become defensive coordinator at Louisiana-Lafayette last season, but like Enos bolted quickly for Alabama.
Lupoi summed up some of the jobs’ allure.
“When I was fortunate enough to come here in the beginning, I came here for a reason, and that was one to be at the Mecca of college football and be coaching with and under one of the best coaches ever to live,” he said. “No matter what title I have, the fact is we’re in an environment here where we are challenged every day, the most competitive environment there is on the college football stage.”
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