The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

New Alabama Faces, Same Nick Saban

93 days ago
Kevin Scarbinsky
Photo: Fred Daniels

Nick Saban called it "the penalty for success." Win a national championship, lose plenty of quality players to the NFL and coaches to better opportunities.

"The challenge is you've got to rebuild with a lot of new players who will be younger, have new roles, less experience, and how do they respond to these new roles? That's why rebuilding is a tremendous challenge," Saban said in the wake of his sixth national title at Alabama and seventh overall. "That's why it's very difficult to repeat."

For all of Saban's success, he's been able to win back-to-back national titles only once in 2011 and 2012. Alabama will attempt to do it again this season without 10 NFL draft picks, six of them first-rounders. Five of those first-round selections fueled one of the most explosive offenses in college football history, led by Heisman-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith, quarterback Mac Jones and running back Najee Harris.

Not to mention, offensive coordinator and play-caller Steve Sarkisian left to become the head coach at Texas.

But replacing quality players and coaches has become an annual exercise at Alabama. There may be a new quarterback in sophomore Bryce Young, a new play-caller in former NFL head coach Bill O'Brien and new playmakers like wideout John Metchie III waiting for their close-ups, but Saban assured everyone that "we're not changing offenses."

"We've got a good offense," he said. "We've got a good system. We've got a good philosophy. Bill has certainly added to that in a positive way, and we'll probably continue to make some changes. But from a terminology standpoint, from a player standpoint in our building, our offense was very, very productive, and we want to continue to run the same type of offense and feature the players that we have who are playmakers who can make plays, and I think Bill will do a good job of that."

Adding O'Brien as offensive coordinator and Doug Marrone as offensive line coach continues Saban's trend of hiring assistants with NFL experience. The fact that both O'Brien and Marrone, like Saban, were NFL head coaches takes that trend to a new level, especially on offense.

"Bill has done a really, really good job, but everybody's got to remember Sark came from the NFL. Lane (Kiffin) had coached in the NFL. I've coached in the NFL," Saban said. "So I don't think systematically what happens in the NFL is all that much different than what happens in college when it comes to football itself."

The difference in college football is that Alabama has established itself as the premier program, winning six of the last 12 national championships, appearing in six of the seven College Football Playoffs.

Saban credited Kiffin with modernizing Alabama's offensive approach during his time as the Crimson Tide's coordinator, noting that Kiffin had to first educate himself on the up-tempo spread philosophy because his roots were similar to Saban's.

Losing to Ole Miss and its fastball offense in 2014 and 2015 helped convince Saban that a change was necessary, "and it's ironic that Lane's at Ole Miss now." Kiffin's first Ole Miss team hung a record 647 yards on Alabama last year - and lost 63-48.

There is no irony or mystery in Saban's position as the dean of SEC coaches, heading into his 15th season at Alabama and his 20th year in the conference. Eight SEC schools have changed head coaches in the last two years, which inspired a question to Saban about his longevity.

"I think that's simple," he said. "You've got to win."

Mission accomplished. Again and again and again.