By Jess Nicholas
Feb. 24, 2017
If there was ever a doubt that Nick Saban had seen just about all he could stand of Lane Kiffin’s growing infatuation with finesse offensive schemes, hiring Brian Daboll from the New England Patriots as the Crimson Tide’s new offensive coordinator ought to erase those doubts.
Even before a list of potential candidates had emerged to replace Kiffin, word was leaking out of Tuscaloosa that Saban would be going in a different direction philosophically, even if the basic format of Alabama’s offense won’t change much from what it looked like in 2016, or even 2007.
Daboll’s experiences, both as an offensive coordinator with Cleveland, Miami and Kansas City of the NFL and as an assistant in New England and New York paint him as intense, physical-minded coach who believes in momentum in playcalling and will double down on what is working at the time. That trait alone should endear him to a substantial percentage of the Alabama fan base who often found themselves questioning what Kiffin was thinking at various points in a game.
On the other hand, such a philosophy also has the potential to create scoutable tendencies that have a habit of showing up against teams that can match Alabama’s physicality. Such was the case during Alabama’s eventual last-second loss to Auburn in 2013.
The key to the offense in 2017 may not even be Daboll at all; Alabama’s offensive line has to find the consistency it has sorely lacked in recent seasons. Alabama’s high point under Nick Saban for offensive line play came while Jeff Stoutland was the position coach, but Stoutland also drew criticism for misevaluating a few linemen the Tide chose to recruit. Brent Key will take over the entire line from Mario Cristobal in 2017 and the pressure will be on Key to produce better results. If Daboll can’t count on the Tide line to take over games, it won’t matter much what plays he pulls from the call sheet.
A key question in regards to Daboll is whether Alabama got its first choice. By all accounts, yes. Alabama formally interviewed only Daboll and former Houston Texans offensive coordinator George Godsey for the role. An Oklahoma State site reported Nick Saban had offered OSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich (and that Yurcich had turned Alabama down), but TideFans.com believes Saban’s contact with Yurcich was a referral call. The Alabama staff has engaged the Mike Gundy staff in the past, and Yurcich in particular, regarding conceptual matters (and has engaged new Texas coach/former Houston coach Tom Herman’s staff in the past, as well). The call was most likely about getting Yurcich’s opinion on another candidate.
Important to remember here is that Alabama’s base offense is not much different from a pro-style attack utilized by many NFL teams, including the Patriots. The area of concern for Daboll is more his quarterback coaching. Aside from his stint in New York, which included working with Brett Favre in 2008, Daboll’s QB-specific resume is thin. Given that the NCAA seems likely to delay the approval of a tenth assistant coach in FBS until 2018, Alabama has no choice but to hope Daboll is capable of teaching Jalen Hurts the finer points of quarterbacking from a technical aspect.
Flim-Flam, Bim-Bam, LOIC … Oh, Damn!
While Alabama fans were trying to figure out what to make of their new offensive coordinator, Ole Miss fans were trying to figure out what to make of a future that would seem to be filled with 3-9 seasons for a decade or so.
The NCAA dropped its second letter of inquiry into the mailbox and by the time it had arrived in Oxford, the Rebels had already offered up a one-year bowl ban for 2017, along with prayers that the worst of this ordeal would be over.
Now a few years after head coach Hugh Freeze’s memorable tweet imploring anyone with knowledge of Ole Miss recruiting violations call the Ole Miss compliance staff (perhaps so they could subsequently bury the allegations), the NCAA thanked Freeze for his proactiveness by essentially accusing the Rebels of the worst recruiting violations since at least the USC-Reggie Bush case.
Despite repeated attempts from the school and from Ole Miss-friendly media to paint this case as an artifact from the Houston Nutt era, or in sports other than football, Wednesday’s bombshell lays the bulk of the blame squarely on current staffers, administrators and Freeze in particular. Ole Miss is accused of providing improper benefits to multiple athletes and then lying about it to investigators. That’s the regulatory equivalent of driving 130 mph down the interstate, passing a cop, and waving the open beer bottle out the window as you go by.
It’s impossible to tell what the NCAA will or won’t do in any given investigation. This is an organization that over-penalizes almost as often as it under-penalizes, and also one that spent a few years letting member schools (Auburn, Miami) all but dictate terms of investigations to the enforcement staff. Current opinion on the NCAA climate is that the organization has tightened up its investigatory muscles and is anxious to prove itself on a major case again.
So basically, Ole Miss followed up the beer bottle drive-by with extension of the middle finger of friendship.
Unfortunately for Rebel fans, Ole Miss is not Alabama, Florida, Georgia, etc. The rebound time for those major programs is typically 3-5 years after sanctions end, at best. Figure the timeline in Oxford to be double that. Lack of institutional control – the NCAA equivalent of manslaughter – has been charged, the school has forfeited $7.8 million in SEC bowl revenue and all seniors are free to transfer away from the program without penalty.
Observers are split on whether Freeze survives the fallout. Ole Miss is contesting the charges relating to Freeze, and it’s certainly possible the Rebels come out on top in those battles, but at this point such an outcome would be the equivalent of drawing to an inside straight on three consecutive hands.
In the end, all Ole Miss managed to do was reinforce the perception that top-level talent doesn’t go to Oxford without inducement. And fair or not, Ole Miss will carry the skeleton of that perception on its back for decades to come.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN