Impossible as it would’ve been to believe back on Jan. 3, 2007, Nick Saban is gearing up for his 13th season as Alabama’s head coach. And while it’s true that any head coach would experience a high level of turnover over a dozen seasons — particularly any that wins at the stratospheric level of Saban’s crimson dynasty — the coaching carousel has spun at an increasing speed in Tuscaloosa over the past few years.
Alabama on Friday announced its 2019 staff featuring seven new coaches for 10 spots. Only Pete Golding (promoted to defensive coordinator), Jeff Banks and Karl Scott remain from the 2018 staff — and that’s as far back as their Alabama tenure goes. With a hire date of Dec. 15, 2017, Golding is Saban’s longest-tenured on-the-field assistant coach.
According to a FootballScoop analysis of past staffs, a total of 41 coaches have been employed as full-time, on-the-field assistant coaches in the Saban era.
For the first decade of Saban’s tenure, his staff was relatively stable. From 2007 through 2010, Saban’s first four seasons in Tuscaloosa, a total of 14 coaches occupied his nine assistant spots. From 2014-16, only one spot changed over in the offensive staff room, and from 2012-14 the defensive staff remained largely the same.
But over the past handful of seasons — since the start of the College Football Playoff era, more or less — Saban’s staff turnover has reached near-annual levels. Consider the following rate of turnover:
Offensive Coordinator — 4 in the past 4 seasons
Quarterbacks Coach — 4 in the past 4 seasons
Wide Receivers Coach — 4 in the past 4 seasons
Running Backs Coach — 3 in the past 3 seasons
Offensive Line Coach — 3 in the past 5 seasons
Tight Ends Coach — 3 in the past 4 seasons
Defensive Coordinator — 3 in the past 3 seasons
Inside Linebackers Coach — 3 in the past 5 seasons
Defensive Line Coach — 3 in the past 3 seasons
Defensive Backs Coach — 7 in the past 7 seasons
Special Teams Coordinator — 4 in the past 5 seasons
Below is a full accounting of Saban’s coaching staffs, dating back to his inaugural year of 2007:
|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|
|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|
Now, the obvious question: does any of this matter?
The obvious answer is that it doesn’t. Alabama is on a current run of success that’s so insane it’s hard to quantify. The Tide has won 16 of its last 17 games, 27 of its last 29, 55 of its last 59 and 139 of 154 since the Machine became fully operational in 2008. Every player — every single player — who has signed with Saban’s Alabama and lasted four years in his program has left with at least one national championship ring.
That on-field success is underwritten by an even more ruthless dynasty on the recruiting trail. Alabama has finished with the No. 1 class in the 247Sports Composite rankings in eight of the last nine cycles — and the Tide’s 2020 class sits at No. 1 as of this writing as well.
Clearly, a revolving door in the entryway to each assistant coach’s office has not hindered Alabama’s recruiting efforts. In fact, it was anticipated all along as part of Saban’s “one voice” philosophy. As long as Saban (and, crucially, head strength coach Scott Cochran) remains at the peak of his powers, Alabama will remain at College Football Playoff fixture.
But having such an overwhelming talent advantage coupled with a constantly changing staff does present its own set of problems. How do you properly evaluate your team’s weak points when you’re essentially a varsity team playing a JV schedule?
Saban, like every head coach in the country, evaluates his team and his staff year round. But unlike every other coach, results of his year-long prodding and tinkering don’t pour in for Saban until the calendar flips to December and a similarly elite team lines up on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage.
In 2017, Alabama lost by 12 points at Auburn but still managed to sneak into the CFP field, where the Tide handled Clemson in the semifinals, then rallied past a 13-point deficit to stun Georgia in overtime. Last season, Alabama again rallied from a 2-touchdown deficit to beat Georgia in the SEC Championship, blasted Oklahoma in the semifinals, then was blown out in the national championship by Clemson.
Then 70 percent of the staff left, signifying time to build anew.
This fall, Alabama will almost certainly head into the final weekend of the regular season at No. 1 or No. 2 in the CFP rankings. And then Saban will really begin to learn what he’s got in his new coaching staff.
It’s a problem nearly every head coach in football would love to have, but it’s a problem nonetheless.