By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Dec. 14, 2011
Everyone loves a list. Supermarket magazines make a killing off telling women what the 37 top beauty secrets for the summer will be, while sports magazines spend endless ink trying to rank baseball players over parts of three centuries.
In regards to Alabama’s offensive coordinator opening, lists are already being published. There’s a good chance every one of them will be wrong.
Alabama has never been known as an airtight ship where inside information is concerned, but one part of the dike Nick Saban has been able to plug since arriving in 2007 is the part holding back the flow of information concerning coaching and staffing hires. Typically, if word leaks out at all, it will leak out a day or two in advance. Everything up to that point is pure speculation.
Still, fans want to read lists. So here’s a list. But it’s not necessarily a list of Alabama targets (although a handful of these names may very well get an interview). Think of this list as more of a collection of names that might be offensive coordinator candidates to watch, much akin to our annual “Coaches to Watch” list. It bears mentioning that, when he was hired in 2008, Jim McElwain’s name was on virtually no publicly published lists.
The one part of this process that isn’t speculation? Alabama isn’t going to reinvent the wheel with this hire. Whoever takes Jim McElwain’s place will run some version of the pro-style attack Alabama has lifted from the New England Patriots, an offense that has its roots in the mind of former Alabama head coach Ray Perkins.
Current position: WR coach, Alabama
Groh’s name is the “safe” name for people trying to predict a candidate. He has offensive coordinator experience from his time at the University of Virginia, his receivers showed tangible improvement in his one year on the job so far and he comes from a pro-style background. The black mark on his record, of course, is that he was fired at Virginia – by his own father, no less – after Virginia’s offense faltered badly. Much of Groh’s struggles at UVA were the result of talent issues; the Cavaliers never managed to recruit a quarterback well-suited to the offensive scheme, and talent overall was just average. The question is whether those concerns will be enough to cost him a shot.
Current position: Offensive quality control support staff, Alabama
Napier has experience at Clemson, but he was let go there after Dabo Swinney took over the head coaching job. He’s been on support staff at Alabama in his time since. Napier had his fans among coaching analysts while Clemson’s offensive coordinator, but it’s hard to imagine him going from a desk job to Alabama’s offensive coordinator in one step. It would seem likely, though, that he could be in line for a field assistant’s position should Alabama elect to promote from within.
Current position: Running backs coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Logan is another coach with Nick Saban ties. Saban is rumored to have asked Logan to join the Alabama staff in both 2007 and 2008, but Logan declined both times. With coaching turnover likely on the horizon in Tampa Bay, Logan might be more likely to listen this time around. He is best-known to Alabama fans for his time at East Carolina, where he tutored David Garrard and nearly beat Alabama in one of the last games at Legion Field.
Current position: Offensive coordinator/QB coach, Kansas City Chiefs
Trying to project NFL assistants to college jobs is always tricky, and it depends heavily on what other options those coaches have. Zorn’s boss, Todd Haney, was recently fired at Kansas City and Romeo Crennel’s head coaching tag comes with the “interim” modifier. If KC goes a different direction in the offseason, Zorn could be looking for work. He’s been a head coach with the Washington Redskins, but the results were disastrous. Zorn’s biggest obstacle to working at Alabama is that his pedigree is extensively with the West Coast attack. But Jim McElwain was a spread/West Coast guy himself prior to coming to Alabama.
Current position: Offensive coordinator, Miami Dolphins
Daboll is another NFL coach that will likely be looking for work in the offseason. The difference between him and Zorn is, Daboll has a history with Nick Saban. Daboll was a graduate assistant on Saban’s 1998 and 1999 Michigan State teams. He then went on to work with the New England Patriots, Alabama’s NFL doppelganger, before ending up with Miami. The one kink in the plans could come from the fact that Daboll isn’t a quarterback specialist (his resume involves stops on defense and coaching wide receivers), so Alabama might have to reshuffle the staff. But with the Michigan State connection, one never knows.
Current position: Offensive coordinator, North Carolina State
Bible is regarded as a good veteran coordinator, and the offense head coach Tom O’Brien prefers is much like the one Alabama runs. But Bible’s recent teams have been unbalanced, throwing the ball much more effectively than running it. North Carolina State finished the regular season ranked 93rd in total offense. Among the highs were a 56-point outburst in the final regular-season game against Maryland and 37 points against Clemson, but NC State was also shut out by Florida State and scored just 23 points total over a three-week span that included the FSU, North Carolina and Boston College games. Bible has also had health concerns recently, being diagnosed with leukemia in 2009. On the positive side of the ledger, the list of quarterbacks Bible has developed over his career is lengthy, with several NFL names on the list, most notably Matt Ryan.
Current position: QB coach, Miami Dolphins
Like Daboll, Dorrell will be looking for work in a few weeks. Dorrell is most known as a former UCLA coach, and was hired in large part due to his recruiting acumen. That ability serves him well when under consideration for a job coaching for Nick Saban. Dorrell has done a good job in Miami given the talent at hand, but he’s been a quarterbacks coach for all of one year. His specialty, like many others on this list, is coaching wide receivers. Because of Dorrell’s extensive college resume, he may be a better fit than most pro coaches.
Current position: Offensive coordinator, Central Florida
To coach for George O’Leary, you have to respect the running game and offensive balance. Taaffe does both. The Golden Knights finished 42nd in total offense, but displayed good balance and his philosophies almost directly mirror those of Saban’s. Taaffe also has head coaching experience in the CFL, reaching the Grey Cup with Montreal, and at The Citadel. He worked under Ralph Friedgen at Maryland.
Current position: Unemployed (fired as Washington State head coach following 2011 season)
Wulff has a tough-as-nails reputation but wasn’t able to put together a winner at Washington State. He was, however, able to build a winner at Eastern Washington, where he was employed prior to taking the WSU job. Wulff’s teams ran a full-on passing spread attack, but it was a downfield, vertical attack not much different from the one former Washington State (and almost-Alabama) head coach Mike Price favored. Transitioning from such an offense to the one currently used by Alabama would not be very difficult for Wulff.
Current position: Unemployed (fired as Ole Miss head coach following 2011 season)
Before anyone’s pacemaker shorts out, understand that Nick Saban recommended LSU hire Nutt after Saban left for the Miami Dolphins. Nutt’s preferred offense is very much like the one Saban runs, and Nutt has done a good job developing quarterbacks in the past. The negatives are well-known. Nutt wouldn’t be much help on the recruiting trail, and it’s questionable how much drive he’d have after being a head coach in the SEC and pocketing approximately $10 million in buyout money in recent years.
Current position: Offensive assistant, New England Patriots
Godsey is a former Georgia Tech quarterback, Ralph Friedgen protégé and current offensive assistant with the Patriots. He’s young in the business and has never been a coordinator. But the connections to the O’Leary-Friedgen coaching model and the Patriots, not to mention his connection to the Southeast, make him one to watch – especially as a staff addition should Alabama promote Groh to offensive coordinator.
Current position: Unemployed (fired as Colorado State head coach following 2011 season)
Here’s a pick for symmetry’s sake. Fairchild was fired at Colorado State, which is where Jim McElwain is now. Prior to taking the CSU job, Fairchild served as offensive coordinator for both the St. Louis Rams and the Buffalo Bills. At Colorado State, he tried to move the Rams closer to a pro-style attack and away from the spread-based attack former coach Sonny Lubick had employed, but the results never added up. CSU improved on offense somewhat in 2011, but not enough to save Fairchild’s job. His pro experience and offensive philosophy, though, could get him a look.
And just for fun: Bill Cubit, Jason Garrett
Current positions: Head coaches, Western Michigan and Dallas Cowboys, respectively
We’ll list these two here because both of them are “silly season”-type suggestions. Cubit is the head coach and offensive coordinator at Western Michigan, and expecting a sitting head coach to step down to take a coordinator’s position borders on insipid. However, Cubit was on the hotseat prior to posting a 7-5 record in 2011 and making a bowl game. What gets him mentioned here is that at some point, he and WMU will part ways. He isn’t doing well enough to garner attention from a bigger program, plus he’s no spring chicken (58 years old) and likely is on a collision course with retirement if he stays with the Broncos. He might actually make more money as a coordinator at Alabama, and he has SEC experience having coached at Florida. As for Jason Garrett, he’s currently the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, but if the Cowboys miss the playoffs, Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones is just as likely to fire him as not. Garrett was Nick Saban’s original choice to be offensive coordinator in 2007, but Garrett turned down the offer to stay in the pros. This time around, he might not have a better choice.