Coaching tracker: Alabama's revamped staff appears to finally be set

Nick Saban will have at least seven new assistant coaches in 2019, after hiring six new coaches last year

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The press conference had just ended and the side door was open to the Naylor Stone Media Room, located just down the hall from some of the football coaches’ offices on the University of Alabama campus.

It was January 11, four days after the National Championship Game loss, and linemen Jonah Williams and Quinnen Williams had just declared for the NFL Draft. Reporters were settling in to work in and file their stories when the sound of someone racing by couldn’t be ignored.

Moments later, he went by again heading back up the hall while pushing a moving dolly.

It’s been that kind of month for the Crimson Tide coaching staff, with the majority exiting and Nick Saban hiring seven replacements. Two had worked for him before, but the turnover came on the heels of the six additions for 2018.

“We’re really happy with the staff and the guys that we have,” Saban said this past week

While the faces are new — again — don’t expect anything radically different on the field in 2019 in terms of scheme and philosophy. Alabama will gear everything to maximize the talent on the roster like usual, while working within the structure of a Saban-coached team.

That will never chance as long as he’s at the helm.

“I think because the philosophy of who we are, it doesn't change, because it starts and ends with Coach Saban,” former offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said before departing to be Maryland's head coach. “If you know Coach, he's not big into change. He is looking to always improve and quality control the things that you do, whether it's offense, defense or special teams, but ultimately, his philosophy, you can feel it throughout the whole program.

“It's his program and we try to make him happy,”

Although Alabama has yet to announce the coaching moves (last year’s staff wasn’t finalized until Feb. 22), here’s how the roster of assistants is lining up:

Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks: Steve Sarkisian

Sarkisian was an offensive analyst for the 2016 season and named Alabama’s offensive coordinator for the National Championship Game, so he’s already familiar with the team and the offense. The one major aspect that’s changed was the heavy reliance on the run-pass option that developed under Locksley.

“The biggest thing is just the personality of the play caller and implementing how you call games based on the Alabama offense,” Locksley said. “This offense and the running game hadn't changed over the years. We're always going to be an offense that wants to establish the run.

“I think what we've been able to add, in addition to some of the drop-back passing game or some of the things that our quarterback does well with the RPOs and the zone read stuff, we've been very fortunate that we've got a lot of skill throughout our offense and it's hard to pick a guy to defend or try to take away.”

Sarkisian is known for attacking defenses downfield in the passing game, and heavily recruited Tua Tagovailoa when he was at USC, so they already have a good relationship.

Although Tagovailoa will have this third offensive coordinator in as many years, Saban is going back to having the offensive coordinator also serve as the quarterbacks coach. Dan Enos, now at Miami, was Alabama’s quarterbacks coach last season.

Defensive coordinator/interior linebackers: Pete Golding

One of the few holdovers from the 2018 season, Golding flirted with some other opportunities but ended up staying with the promotion to defensive coordinator. The guess here is that he’ll also keeping coaching the interior linebackers as a position group.

Former defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi is the new defensive line coach with the Cleveland Browns.

Special-teams coordinator/tight ends: Jeff Banks

Also back from the 2018 staff. The return units were excellent, but the kickers/punters really struggled.

Running backs (running game coordinator): Charles Huff

Huff was reportedly a finalist for the NIU head coaching job and also turned down an opportunity at Notre Dame to learn from Saban. He’s also considered a top-notch recruiter. He followed Joe Moorhead to Mississippi State, but during his four years at Penn State coached and recruited All-America running back Saquon Barkley.

Joe Pannunzio was hired this week by the Philadelphia Eagles. His role has not been announced.

Wide receivers: Holmon Wiggins

Wiggins was reportedly offered the Temple offensive coordinator opening,but instead is heading to Tuscaloosa. Wiggins was at Virginia Tech the last three years, after four at Memphis. Among the players he coached including Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips and Anthony Miller. He was considered one of the Hokies’ best recruiters.

Josh Gatts left to be the offensive coordinator at Michigan. He said on a podcast that Saban gave him a “butt chewing” after telling the coach he was leaving to follow Locksley to Maryland, but later said he was joking.

Offensive line: Kyle Flood

Saban is known for his reclamation projects and this year it’s the former Rutgers head coach who had his one-year show-cause penalty expire while he served as the offensive line coach of the Atlanta Falcons (20-17-18). The penalty was due to "lack of oversight'' Flood had just been promoted to a senior assistant position in charge of game-clock management with the Falcons when he decided to follow Sarkisian to Alabama.

Brent Key is back at Georgia Tech, working for Geoff Collins, who was Saban’s first player personnel director at Alabama. He recently said it will be easier to recruit at his alma mater than for the Crimson Tide.

Defensive line: Brian Baker

BamaCentral broke the story that Saban was targeting Baker to be his defensive line coach. He had been at Mississippi State since 2016 and this past season had defensive linemen land various All-American honors, Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat. He’s the rare kind of coach who is hailed as being both a standout coach and developer of talent, in addition to recruiter.

Craig Kuligowski, who once played for Saban at Toledo, is moving on after one year at Alabama.

Outside linebacker: Sal Sunseri

Sal Sunseri was on Alabama’s coaching staff from 2009-2011, which makes him the dean of this year’s assistants in terms of Crimson Tide experience. He left for Tennessee to be the defensive coordinator of Derek Dooley, another former Saban assistant, and has since bounced around to Florida State, the Oakland Raiders and Florida last season. He’ll be reunited with sons Vinnie and Tino, who have both been added to the football staff.

Defensive backs: Charles Kelly

The surprise of the revamped staff may have been the former defensive coordinator (2014-17) at Florida State under Jimbo Fisher. He replaced Jeremy Pruitt, who ended up hiring Kelly at Tennessee last year. Something to keep an eye on with Kelly, he has experience coaching special teams.

Saban had always helped coach the defensive backs during practices so it’ll be interesting to see if his role is changing on a daily basis.

Defensive backs: Karl Scott

The final returning coach, Scott oversaw the revamped secondary that needed four new starters in the base package plus new stalwarts in the nickel and dime packages. He’s going to get some more help this year, after Alabama made the secondary a recruiting priority and added a lot of new players.

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Christopher  Walsh
EditorChristopher Walsh