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No amount of staff changes will ever slow down Nick Saban's machine

I'll admit it. I thought the constant churn of assistant coaches would one day be Alabama's downfall. At some point, Nick Saban would run out of talented coaches willing to work for him. At some point, Saban would miss on enough hires at one time that the machine would break down. At some point, the market would become wise to the soul-crushing grind required to work for Saban and stop taking jobs for him.

When Kirby leaves, I told myself. Alabama's offense sure looked good under Lane, I reasoned, but let's see him keep it going without him. Yeah, Saban is elite, but you forget just how important Scott Cochran is, the yin to his yang. Just you wait.

Some point never arrived. Alabama kept losing assistants, and Alabama kept getting better.

Beyond that, the paradigm shifted. The constant turn and burn of assistants stopped being a liability and became a strength. Then again, maybe it was always that way and it took year after year of relentless success behind a constantly changing array of helping hands for me to finally get it.

That's not to say Saban necessarily wants to change assistant coaches on an annual basis. After all, it's a fact that Alabama changed seven of 10 assistants before the 2019 season and subsequently missed the College Football Playoff for the first and only time, then brought nine of 10 back in 2020 and produced the most impressive of Saban's six title runs. Maybe that's a coincidence, maybe not. Either way, it's beside the point.

Saban doesn't necessarily steer directly into change, but he doesn't fear it, either. He embraces it. Win like he does and competitors -- imitators, more accurately -- will come after your people. It's simply a fact of life, nothing to be embraced or avoided. In fact, stay too long and people might start asking questions. If all your peers are getting hired away, why aren't you?

This isn't to say Alabama's assistants are irrelevant. That would be disrespectful to the staff and disrespectful to the competition. You've still got to be the best at what you do to get a job in Tuscaloosa. You'll be rewarded handsomely in the present and the future for your time in crimson, but the bar is sky high and not dropping a single millimeter.

It's just that no single assistant, no two assistants, no three, no four, no number of assistant coaching attrition will ever break down the Machine, because Saban is the Machine. He built it, he drives it, and he knows best how to maintain it. The Process doesn't run itself -- again, that's disrespectful to all involved -- but it'll never break down so long as Saban sits atop the pyramid.

Offseason

Position/Personnel Changes

Result

2007-08

3

SEC West champions, Sugar Bowl

2008-09

2

National Champions

2009-10

2

4th place SEC West, Citrus Bowl

2010-11

3

National Champions

2011-12

2

National Champions

2012-13

3

SEC West runner-up, Sugar Bowl

2013-14

3

SEC champions, CFP semifinalists

2014-15

2

National Champions

2015-16

4

SEC champions, CFP runner-up

2016-17

3

National Champions

2017-18

9

SEC champions, CFP runner-up

2018-19

8

SEC West runner-up, Citrus Bowl

2019-20

1

National Champions

2020-21

5

???

After all, change is the only constant in college football. So, sure, the typical Alabama player may be recruited by one assistant and coached by one or two different guys during his time in Tuscaloosa, but it's nothing to fear because the process is proven to work. If the players are only around four years (and the very best are gone after three), what does it really matter that Alabama's secondary has been through seven coaches in a decade? Najee Harris had three position coaches in his four years in crimson. What of it? He leaves Tuscaloosa a Doak Walker winner, a national champion and a first round pick.

Still, the facts are the facts. Alabama introduced five new coaches to its 2021 staff. Pete Golding is the dean of assistants, hired in 2017. On offense, wide receivers coach Holmon Wiggins is the elder statesman, with a 2019 hire date.

All of that is perfectly fine. It is good. If the head coach is constant and he sets the culture, change a level below him is healthy. It breathes life into the program. Does anyone think Alabama would still be playing for titles if Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian hadn't changed the Tide's approach on offense?

And far from scaring good coaches away, the constant change has actually made Alabama more attractive to good coaches. They just hired two guys who were NFL head coaches last season, for crying out loud. That wasn't happening in 2007, 2014 or even 2018. The Alabama staff room has become a Big Four firm for recent CPA school grads: you may not necessarily enjoy your tenure, but put your head down, produce good work and you'll have your pick of jobs in due time.

So thoroughly has Saban flipped this paradigm that I now say coaches pursue head coaching jobs just so they can get fired and work for The Man, after which point their career will really begin. It's a joke, but how far from reality is it really?

Before we get to the full breakdown of the 46 different gentlemen to hold a full-time, on-field position in Saban's now 15 seasons in Tuscaloosa -- seriously, 2021 will be Saban's 15th at Bama -- here's the trend at each position:

Offensive Coordinator -- 5 in the past 6 seasons
Quarterbacks Coach -- 5 in the past 6 seasons
Wide Receivers Coach -- 4 in the past 6 seasons
Running Backs Coach -- 4 in the past 5 seasons
Offensive Line Coach -- 3 in the past 4 seasons
Tight Ends Coach -- 4 in the past 6 seasons

Defensive Coordinator -- 3 in the past 5 seasons
Inside Linebackers Coach -- 3 in the past 7 seasons
Defensive Line Coach -- 4 in the past 5 seasons
Safeties Coach -- 7 in the past 10 seasons
Cornerbacks Coach -- 7 in the past 10 seasons
Special Teams Coordinator -- 5 in the past 7 seasons

And here is a full accounting of Saban's coaching staffs, dating back to his inaugural year of 2007:

Offense

Year

OC

QBs

WRs

RBs

OL

TE

2007

M. Applewhite

M. Applewhite

C. Cignetti

B. Burns

J. Pendry

R. Middleton

2008

J. McElwain

J. McElwain

C. Cignetti

B. Burns

J. Pendry

B. Williams

2009

J. McElwain

J. McElwain

C. Cignetti

B. Burns

J. Pendry

B. Williams

2010

J. McElwain

J. McElwain

C. Cignetti

B. Burns

J. Pendry

B. Williams

2011

J. McElwain

J. McElwain

M. Groh

B. Burns

J. Stoutland

B. Williams

2012

D. Nussmeier

D. Nussmeier

M. Groh

B. Burns

J. Stoutland

B. Williams

2013

D. Nussmeier

D. Nussmeier

B. Napier

B. Burns

M. Cristobal

B. Williams

2014

L. Kiffin

L. Kiffin

B. Napier

B. Burns

M. Cristobal

B. Williams

2015

L. Kiffin

L. Kiffin

B. Napier

B. Burns

M. Cristobal

B. Williams

2016

L. Kiffin

L. Kiffin

B. Napier

B. Burns

B. Key

M. Cristobal

2017

B. Daboll

B. Daboll

M. Locksley

B. Burns

B. Key

J. Pannunzio

2018

M. Locksley

D. Enos

J. Gattis

J. Pannunzio

B. Key

J. Banks

2019

S. Sarkisian

S. Sarkisian

H. Wiggins

C. Huff

K. Flood

J. Banks

2020

S. Sarkisian

S. Sarkisian

H. Wiggins

C. Huff

K. Flood

J. Banks

2021

B. O'Brien

B. O'Brien

H. Wiggins

R. Gillespie

D. Marrone

J. Graham

Defense

Year

DC

ILBs

OLBs

DL

DBs

STs

2007

K. Steele

K. Steele

L. Thompson

B. Davis

K. Smart

R. Middleton

2008

K. Smart

K. Steele

L. Thompson

B. Davis

K. Smart

B. Williams

2009

K. Smart

S. Sunseri

J. Willis

B. Davis

K. Smart

B. Williams

2010

K. Smart

K. Smart

S. Sunseri

B. Davis

J. Pruitt

B. Williams

2011

K. Smart

K. Smart

S. Sunseri

C. Rumph

J. Pruitt

B. Williams

2012

K. Smart

K. Smart

L. Thompson

C. Rumph

J. Pruitt

B. Williams

2013

K. Smart

K. Smart

L. Thompson

C. Rumph

G. Brown

B. Williams

2014

K. Smart

K. Steele

L. Thompson

B. Davis

K. Smart

B. Williams

2015

K. Smart

K. Smart

T. Lupoi

B. Davis

M. Tucker

B. Williams

2016

J. Pruitt

J. Pruitt

T. Lupoi

K. Dunbar

D. Ansley

B. Key

2017

J. Pruitt

J. Pruitt

T. Lupoi

K. Dunbar

D. Ansley

J. Pannunzio

2018

T. Lupoi

P. Golding

T. Lupoi

C. Kuligowski

K. Scott

J. Banks

2019

P. Golding

P. Golding

S. Sunseri

B. Baker

K. Scott/C. Kelly

J. Banks

2020

P. Golding

P. Golding

S. Sunseri

F. Roach

K. Scott/C. Kelly

J. Banks

2021

P. Golding

P. Golding

S. Sunseri

F. Roach

J. Valai/C. Kelly

J. Graham