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Chris BassESPN Senior Writer
- With ESPN.com since 2007
- Absolvent der University of Tennessee
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When it comes toAlabamaFootball, the concern is relative.
Sure, it's only been two seasons without a national championship, but the team that replaced Alabama for the title spot over those two years was an SEC rival.Georgia. The Crimson Tide sometimes just didn't look like the Alabama teams of yesteryear under Nick Saban a year ago, and they're missing a Heisman Trophy quarterback with no clear backup.
Trotzyoung BryceIn each of the last two seasons, "all" the Tide could muster during that span was an SEC championship in 2021. Also, Alabama is bringing back less production from last season than any other SEC team, finishing 125th of 133 FBS teams in this department, according toESPN's Bill Connelly projections.
Additionally, Saban will go into next season with new offensive and defensive coordinators.
The reality is that Alabama will look very different in 2023, especially on offense with the arrival of Tommy ReesOur ladyas offensive coordinator. Kevin Steele, a very important part of the Saban family, hails fromMiamias defensive coordinator in his third stint with Saban in Alabama. And in either case, according to coaches, soccer pundits and others close to the program, the signings suggest Saban may be returning to his roots as he heads into his 17th season at Tuscaloosa.
"You're not looking for a complete overhaul on either side of the ball," one veteran coach told ESPN. “Nick has adjusted and adapted a lot more than he was given credit for. He's changed as the game has changed, but with the direction you're seeing him headed with his two staffed coordinators, don't be surprised if he seems a little more than Alabama felt like six, seven or eight years ago, around this time.
"At least I'd say that's the plan: pass the ball on offense, engage on defense, and generally hit you in the mouth."
According to people close to the Alabama program, one of the things that impressed Saban most about former Notre Dame quarterback Rees was his ability to tailor what the Irish were doing offensively to his quarterback's strengthsBuch,Jack Coan,pulled jawsÖTyler Buchner, who starred in Notre Dame's Gator Bowl winCaroline all onlast season after breaking his collarbone earlier in the year.
“First of all, I would single out Rees' dedication to handling the ball and how he found ways to get his best player to get the ball, whether he was a running back or notKyren Williamsthe wing closed likeMichael Mayer, had to be a major factor in Saban's decision," an SEC offensive coordinator told ESPN.
To be fair, it's not that Alabama didn't run or couldn't run under former offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, who went toNew England Patriots. The Tide averaged 195.7 rushing yards per game last season and 150 yards in 2021. But from 2009, when Saban won his first national title in Alabama, through the 2017 national championship season, The Tide averaged at least 200 rushing yards per game but one season. They haven't come back since then, although they were close for a few years.
And for those who have criticized O'Brien and The Tide's offense over the past two seasons, Alabama was fourth nationally in offense rating a year ago (41.1 points per game) and finished sixth in 2021 (39.9 points per game).
"Alabama was so dynamic and so explosive offensively in 2020 that anyone who came after that (Steve Sarkisian) would be considered a demotion by fans," an assistant coach told the SEC. "That's the way it is in Alabama. But I'd say Saban knows what he wants and where he's going with this offense."
Rees, 30, is the opposite of Steele, who has 40 years in the business and is a former NFL coach, college coach and defensive coordinator at five Power 5 schools.
"(Rees) better have thick skins," joked one SEC tech. "But that could be said of all of Nick's offensive coordinators, no matter their age."
According to a source close to the Alabama program, Rees' confidence and confidence shone through during his interview with Saban, who spoke to a variety of coaches during his search for an offensive coordinator. Among them: Washington's Ryan Grubb, former Florida head coach Dan Mullen, former Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, and former head coachCleveland BrownsCoach Freddie Kitchens.
"One of Nick's best qualities is that he's always looking for new ideas and new ways to do things," a former Alabama coach told ESPN. “He doesn't mind being challenged in those areas. But there are some things he won't compromise on. It's still Nick's offense and (Rees) will carry out his version of Nick's offense."
Protect the quarterback, beSimpsonÖjalen milroe, is an area that needs to be addressed quickly. The Tide did better in that department a year ago, finishing 47th nationally with 22 sacks allowed. But that's after he finished 120th nationally in 2021 (41 sacks allowed).
"A lot of it comes from being able to not just run away from people and beat them on big plays in big, meaningful games, but to line them up and punish them on the run," said a former SEC coach . . "I think Nick wants to get back to that, and if you can do that, the quarterback isn't going to carry as much weight."
Rees, who was the Irish halfbacks coach for six seasons, had the opportunity to leave with Brian KellyLSUa year ago but chose to stay in Notre Dame. He's smart enough to know what it can mean for a coach to be Saban's offensive coordinator, which is easily one of the toughest jobs in college football. Saban's bottom five offensive coordinators are Power 5 head coaches or NFL head coaches or offensive coordinators.
"It was the right move for Rees and one that could pay off for him and Saban," said a former coach. "Anyway, it will be fun to see how it all unfolds."
While Rees might have learned a little on the job after just three years as offensive coordinator, it was certain Saban wasn't going to put anyone on defense who needed "training training wheels."
Not rushing the Saban defense, which finished in the top five points allowed nationally the last time in 2017 when Maré led the country with 11.9 points per game.
And make no mistake, it remains Saban's defense. Steele has served twice more behind that curtain, as defensive coordinator, linebacker coach and director of player personnel.
Throughout his career, Saban has almost always hired people to defend him who already know the system, how to teach him, and how it's supposed to work. The only outlier really was Pete Golding, who left the company last monthbe a ladydefensive coordinator, having served in that position for four seasons at Alabama.
"Nick always had guys in the system, guys who were friends with him in football when he was an assistant or younger coach, and they talked about it a lot and walked him through the system," said a former Alabama coach. . Saying. “Everyone knew the nuances of advocacy, which is pretty broad, and how to apply the principles to defend certain things and the scale of those things.
"And that ran in the family."
Steele is a member of that family, dating back to before he joined Saban in 2007. Steele was the inside linebackers' coach for theCarolina-Panther' first team in 1995. That team's head coach was Dom Capers, who was with Saban at Kent State when they began their coaching careers as senior assistants in the early 1970s. Saban in football close.
"It's a big defensive family, a family that's intertwined, and Kevin was drawn into that family," said a longtime defensive coordinator. "He knows what Nick wants, he knows what he wants the off-season to be like, he knows what Nick wants when it comes to player development and he knows that every detail counts."
In fact, Saban has always had defensive blood ties: Kirby Smart, Will Muschamp, Jeremy Pruitt, Todd Grantham, Glenn Schumann, Bo Davis, Dean Pees, Capers and Steele. And there have been others over the years.
"They all grew up in the system or somehow got out of the system," said one coach. "I think you could say they grew up on 'The Process'."
Steele, 64, witnessed this "trial" firsthand from two opposing angles at the SEC. He was the 2015 defense coordinator at LSU andbrunetteDefensive coordinator from 2016 to 2020. Auburn won Alabama's national championship team in 2017, and Steele was a finalist for the Broyles Award for best assistant coach in the country that season. He was unemployed after Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was fired after the 2020 season, sitting out the 2021 season and later ending up in Miami.
In almost 40 years and 15 stints as a coach, Steele's career is a prime example that there are bound to be some setbacks along the way. He was abysmal as Baylor's head coach from 1999 to 2002, going 31-1 in conference play, and was fired as Clemson's defensive coordinator in January 2012 after the Tigers, who won the ACC championship that season, were defeated 70-33 for West Virginia. in the Orange Bowl.
Steele, who played football under Johnny Majors in Tennessee, has worked for some of the sport's biggest names including Tom Osborne, Bobby Bowden, Dabo Swinney, Majors and now, for the third time, Saban.
"It's always in the eye of the beholder," Osborne told ESPN in 2015 while discussing Steele's career. “What one person remembers you for may not be what other people remember you for. Kevin has had far more success than bumps along the way.”
A longtime coach noted that Steele's recruiting success with the SEC undoubtedly had a big impact on Saban's decision. Like Saban, Steele is a tireless recruiter, and Saban implicitly trusted Steele with his assessments of players and how they would fit during his previous stints with The Tide in Alabama.
"The other thing about Kevin is that he understands Nick and last time he played many different roles dealing with players and situations," said a former Alabama staffer. "He also knows how to deal with it when the s-- hits the fan."
Some might say fans in Tuscaloosa will take a toll if Alabama goes through a third straight season without winning a national title, which surprisingly hasn't happened since Saban arrived in 2007, but history also tells us that it's stupid to start with Saban even lost his fastball at 71.
Yes, he's lost both coordinators, but he'll have a new face and a familiar face as a replacement to win the national championship trophy for the seventh time in Alabama.
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Highest-Paid Coaches in U.S. Sports.
|Average Annual Salary||$9.5M $9.5M $9.5M|
1. David Bronner: $834,034. David Bronner is the head of the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA), which runs the pension fund for Alabama's state employees. He is the highest-paid state employee in Alabama, raking in a whopping $834,034 in 2021, almost twice the salary of Dr.Is Nick Saban a drinker? ›
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Alabama Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide put out the best recruiting class in the nation, scoring 326.06 points.
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The 10 Crimson Tide assistants are set to make $8.235 million in 2022, up from the $7.825 million from the 2021 season.
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- Nick Saban, Alabama: $9,753,221 — No. ...
- Ed Orgeron, LSU: $9,012,917 — No. ...
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- Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M: $7,500,000 — No. ...
- Kirby Smart, Georgia: $7,133,600 — No. ...
- Mark Stoops, Kentucky: $5,263,600 — No.