10/10/20 MFB Alabama vs Ole Miss Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban Team Photo by Kent Gidley

Steve Sarkisian is off to the University of Texas, and Nick Saban already is set to bring in Sarkisian’s replacement as offensive play-caller for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Sources tell FootballScoop that Saban is on the verge of hiring former Penn State and Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien as leader of Alabama’s offense, barring any unexpected final developments such as a current NFL head coaching or offensive coordinator vacancy being offered to O’Brien.

O’Brien had spent Jan. 3-4 in Tuscaloosa meeting with Saban and various other members of Alabama’s football program and athletics department, per sources familiar with O’Brien’s almost immediate arrival in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, some 24 hours on the heels of Sarkisian being formally offered and accepting the Texas job.

Sarkisian’s final game as the Tide’s play-caller was Monday night’s College Football Playoffs title game; he accepted the Texas job on January 2.

O’Brien was fired early in the NFL season as both head coach and general manager of the Texans, who got off to a sluggish 0-4 start en route to a 4-12 finish.

But O’Brien has been known for his offensive acumen, winning the Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant National Coach of the Year award in 2012 for his work at Penn State amidst that school’s road back from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Likewise, O’Brien helped the Texans to four AFC South division titles and subsequent playoff berths.

Earlier in his career, when O’Brien’s star truly began to rise, he was an offensive assistant for five years on Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots’ staffs, advancing to a pair of Super Bowl appearances during that time.

Belichick and Saban are noted friends.

O’Brien faces a daunting task in reinventing the Alabama offense, which is set to lose stars Najee Harris, Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, potentially quarterback Mac Jones and multiple starters from an offensive line that won the Joe Moore Award as college football’s best offensive line during the 2020 season.

The Tide, if Jones forgoes a final season in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, do have former top-rated prep quarterback Bryce Young waiting to take over the offense. Young is an extremely gifted dual-threat quarterback, similar to O’Brien’s franchise quarterback in Houston, Deshaun Watson.

Sources had told FootballScoop that O’Brien emerged in recent days as a potential candidate for multiple NFL offensive coordinator positions, as well as a possible head coaching candidate. The opportunity to work with Nick Saban is there for the taking, and could be formalized in the coming days.

As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest coaching news.

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John Brice has covered college football, mostly in the SEC as well as covering Notre Dame and Ohio State, for more than 20 years. He's a former Tennessee Vols football sideline reporter and believes life should be spent traveling or planning the next trip.