Back by overwhelming demand, FootballScoop will once again examine the assistant coaching hires that will have the biggest impact on the college football season and the coaching job market in the 2021 season and beyond.
Who: Bill O'Brien
Title: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, Alabama
Previous stop: Houston Texans head coach (2014-20)
Why he's important: Well, let's start here. Alabama lost the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver and the pillars of the best offensive line in college football. The men who coordinated the offense and coached the offensive line are gone. They won the national championship game by 28 points. And... they'll be the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the country entering the season. The returning roster, even despite the losses, is still the most talented in college football. Two of the lost assistants were replaced by NFL head coaches. It's possible Nick Saban has put this program so far in front of the pack that Alabama has effectively disappeared into the horizon.
But if Alabama is so far ahead of the sport that they'll cruise to a second straight national title, it's at least worth considering how they'll do it.
In some ways, this is a perfect Nick Saban offense. A group of coaches who have never worked together, coaching players they didn't recruit, running a playbook they didn't write, all in service of the greater good -- driving the rest of college football head first into the dirt
"It’s Alabama’s offense, and that’s what we’re running. Coach (Doug) Marrone, myself, Coach (Robert) Gillespie, Coach (Drew) Svoboda, we’ve really enjoyed learning this offense and being able to coach the players in this offense.”
“First off, he’s a good teacher,” Saban said of O’Brien.
“And I think when you are a good coach, you are a good coach all the time. Whether we are in camp with seventh and eighth-grade kids, you are trying to coach those guys to be better like our own players. I see that in everything he’s done since he’s been here. I think the players have responded well to the coaches on offense, so there has been nothing but positives.”
O'Brien's primary task has been to build trust with Bryce Young. And, admittedly, a pretty good shortcut to building that trust is to pull out a clip of Tom Brady running one of your plays -- a club O'Brien has in his development bag.
Young has thrown only 22 college passes, but that's hardly a concern. The No. 1 quarterback in the class of 2020 has been training for this moment since he could throw a football. From The Athletic:
Bryce had only been playing football for two years, but as his father, Craig, watched him perform week after week in the YMCA Leagues of Pasadena, Calif., he came to believe his son was special.
The way Bryce intuitively sidestepped defenders and delivered throws, the way the ball came off his hand, Craig just knew it: His boy was a prodigy.
It was decided. Bryce “was going to be a quarterback,” Craig said. And that felt less like a position they picked for him and more like one that had chosen Bryce. It was destiny.
At the time, Bryce was 5 years old.
"The quarterback, he has to be very well prepared, from practice to practice, from meeting to meeting, and quite obviously in the games because there’s going to be a lot of things. With all the multiplicity that you see on defense these days, and especially our defense every single day, you’ve got to be able to adjust. You’ve got to be able to communicate with our teammates," O'Brien said. "There has to be a trust developed. Not only a trust of me trusting the quarterback, but the quarterback trusting our offensive staff and me that we’re putting them in the right position to make the right decision. It’s a two-way street when it comes to trust, and that’s why that position is so much fun to coach.”
Previous installments: No. 15: Sonny Cumbie, Texas Tech | No. 14: Travis Williams, UCF | No. 13: Liam Coen, Kentucky | No. 12: Jess Simpson, Miami | No. 11: Tim Banks, Tennessee | No. 10: Mike Bobo, Auburn | No. 9: Jeff Grimes, Baylor | No. 8: Mike Tressel, Cincinnati | No. 7: Mike Yurcich, Penn State | No. 6: Deland McCullough, Indiana
Surrounding the 5-star Young will be a stable of six running backs, five of whom were national top-150 recruits; a wide receiver corps led by John Metchie, who was Bama's No. 3 option last year but would've been a No. 1 for just about anyone else; and an offensive line that features three former 5-star recruits. It's a collection of wealth that would inspire revolution in certain countries.
Alabama will win a national title at some point under O'Brien's direction. Every Nick Saban offensive coordinator that spent more than one season calling plays left with at least one ring.
O'Brien has been fully Processed, which means thinking about anything beyond the task in front of you is total sacrilege.
"I'm focused on what we're doing in our meeting this afternoon as an offense and then what we're planning for practice tomorrow. That's really the way it is here at Alabama," he said last week.
But it's a near certainty O'Brien won't retire at Alabama. The average stay of a Nick Saban offensive coordinator is an even two seasons, and that's with Jim McElwain (four) and Lane Kiffin (three) pulling up the average.
So the next question is, if the Nick Saban School for Once and Future Head Coaches is powerful enough to lure a recently-fired NFL head coach, is it powerful enough to ricochet him back to an NFL head coaching gig a couple years from now?