Whenever a lack of information becomes public and a vacuum is created, something has to fill the gap. That’s when the rumors really start to take hold. That’s where Alabama Football is right now in terms of what’s going on with the coaching staff.
The fanbase hasn’t been shy about offering opinions about wanting new coordinators for the 2023 season. Half of that came to fruition when Pete Golding left Alabama for Ole Miss in a fling. (Bill O’Brien’s future remains unknown as the search for the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator continues.) Although the move to Golding seemed imminent for months, I had a chance to ask him about his future ahead of the Sugar Bowl ask said he expects a return.
The question was not intended to create a gotcha moment that would establish Golding as someone who is telling the untruth. It was about asking him what he expected and letting him fill the gap however he wanted. I’ve spent the last few months speaking to more people than I can count about the position of defensive coordinator and what people in the know want from Golding. It went back and forth.
I was told Nick Saban didn’t want to see him go and was actually trying to keep him, but Golding decided it was time for a change. I think it was a good decision and will provide a much needed reset for both of them.
Before I even get started on the mailbag questions, let me get this straight: Yes, Alabama has done its due diligence on the possibility of bringing former defense coordinator Jeremy Pruitt back into the program. Time will tell how that plays out, but I’ve been told by several people in the program that Saban has been given the green light internally to bring him back if he chooses to do so. That could be as a defensive coordinator or as a defensive analyst. It couldn’t be.
It’s a man’s choice. And this is Saban. Saban obviously took advice from all sides in this regard.
With that, let’s move on to the questions.
Can you clarify what exactly led to Golding’s departure? Golding wanted out, or did Saban want him out? Or was there a shared feeling that a defensive restart was needed? Any idea in a schedule for the exchange? Thanks very much! — peter g
I don’t think it was just one thing. Golding has been at Alabama for five seasons, and coaching under Saban can be like counting dog years, if you take what I’m saying. It wears on trainers and you have to be mentally tough to deal with it. I’m not saying that Golding wasn’t mentally strong enough. In fact, he proves he’ll last as long as he’s tough. I’m just trying to get an idea of why he might make the move.
Let’s be honest about that, too: Whatever he accomplished, it was always seen as Saban’s defense. So from his perspective, he got the heat when the defense didn’t work and got little applause when the defense played well.
So there probably wasn’t a Golding-Saban dynamic that led to his departure. Rather, he was ready for a new challenge in what is considered a simple workplace, and he could reportedly make $2 million a year at Ole Miss.
Think of it this way: Generally, coordinators in Alabama get opportunities to become head coaches after working with Saban for a while. I don’t know what has or hasn’t been presented to Golding in recent years, but I don’t think there were any Power 5 opportunities.
In terms of a defensive restart, I’ve long been a firm believer that it’s about time. It’s not all on Golding, but a lot of it was. When the game was in Tennessee, I don’t think there was a way to put that back in the bottle. Perceptually there was no improvement. And then the Auburn game happened — Alabama allowed 318 rushing yards — happened. The writing was on the wall.
Now it’s all about who Saban wants to hire. The ball is his.
Does offensive coordinator positioning affect offense and play clock management? Bill O’Brien is in the dressing room while the other guys were all on the field (Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian, Brian Daboll). We’ve seen a lot of plays this year that have expired before the end of the season, so I wanted to hear what the general opinion is on that.
I do not think so. O’Brien preferred to work from the box, which was once commonplace for the Alabama offensive coordinator. But when Kiffin came on in 2014, that changed. If you remember, Blake Sims was the quarterback that year and Kiffin worked with him from the sidelines. There were two aspects that worked particularly well. One was the personal coaching Kiffin was able to do with Sims between series. The other and most effective was how Kiffin was able to change the game with offense at the line after looking at how defense was aligned. This made for a special season for both Sims and Amari Cooper.
To do this, he quickly got the first call and then had time to adapt. I don’t know the precise relationship to O’Brien and Bryce Young in this regard. But like you, I’ve noticed how many times the game clock has gotten dangerously close to zero or the ball has been caught at zero. That could be because of O’Brien, or it could be Young adjusting and postponing his block.
I remember when Kiffin arrived, Saban specifically talked about coaching from the sidelines so he could do more coaching with Sims. That wasn’t necessary with Young, so perhaps that’s why O’Brien worked from the box where he had a better view of the field and was aligned like a defence.
The biggest problem I see with Bama is the lines of scrimmage. Bama can’t run consistently when he needs to control the game or on the first down to make second and third downs manageable. The defensive line can no longer get pressure or stop the run with four like they used to. What combination of recruiting, coaching, and program building can be done to restore dominant offensive and defensive lines? — Jacob D
These are perceptive observations that fit into something I love to write and say. You can dress up the soccer ball however you like, spread the field and speed up the pace. But at the end of the day, it always comes back to the lines of scrimmage, and it always will.
One key statistic that struck me is how ineffective Alabama was in third and last place. Last season, third by 1-3 yards, the Crimson Tide converted just 13 of 26 times and averaged 1.54 yards per carry, the worst of the Saban era.
One of the reasons why the team can’t take the air out of the ball with a lead in the fourth quarter is these offensive struggles.
I found that Alabama’s overall offensive line was much better than it was in 2021. The average first-down run was 5.7 yards, up from 4.38 in 2021, beating the great 2020 offensive line (5.69). However, 18.5 percent of running back rushes on the first down went for zero yards or a loss, which ranked 91st, according to TruMedia.
I believe Alabama has the right coach on the offensive line. Several people have told me how much they like Eric Wolford. The same people also suggested to me that his offensive recruit ratings are significantly different than they have been in recent years. Take that as you will, but Wolford likes big-bodied offensive linemen. Here are the heights and weights of the five signers in Alabama’s Class of 2023:
- Kadyn Proctor: 6-7, 330 pounds
- Wilkin Formby: 6-7, 295 pounds
- Olaus Alinen: 6-6, 315 pounds
- Miles McVay: 6-6, 358 pounds
- RyQueze McElderry: 6-3, 340 pounds
Two things stand out. He likes size and he likes linemen who are physically big and strong. I expect the Crimson Tide’s grueling offensive lines will return under his leadership.
Has Saban Pruitt called yet? — Derek M
According to sources with knowledge of the search, they have communicated on multiple occasions, including at least once in person.
Is it true that 99 percent of fans really have no idea about the staff, programs, game planning, recruitment or just about anything else when it comes to great college football? That questioning Saban or his coordinators’ decisions (or the results) is essentially like questioning Buffett about his past investment decisions? I know it’s all fun, but is this the biggest mass deception in America right now?
I don’t know about the 99 percent because there are some really knowledgeable fans out there, but I think the spirit of what you’re saying is 100 percent true. And I count myself among them. I know just enough to be dangerous because I don’t really know. None of us do anything but the buses in these buildings.
We often see busts in the coverage and we think We know who is responsible. Sometimes we are right. Sometimes we’re wrong. Sometimes we see a player on the bench who we think should play over another. But I always like to remind myself that there’s a reason player X is playing over player Y.
But that doesn’t mean coaches are beyond doubt. When for some reason Alabama didn’t adjust the coverage of Jalin Hyatt in the Tennessee game, it was maddening for fans to watch. Some coaches who watched the game were maddened, they told me. So coaches have to take responsibility for that in a way.
But to get to the heart of what you’re saying, if Saban put us on a dry-erase board, presented an offensive game, and asked us how we’d defend it in terms of X and O, we’d melt away.
However, Alabama has too good a roster to have the problems it’s had lately. I suspect Saban knows this and is trying to remedy the situation.
(Top Photo by Nick Saban and Pete Golding: Michael Allio / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)