The big news for Alabama fans right now is that offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien is leaving to take the job as the OC for the New England Patriots. If you missed it, here’s Erik’s farewell article:
And subsequently, CB gave a quick stab at some potential replacement candidates for us:
After all of that, Alabama is now looking at some major changes as Nick Saban will have to replace both his OC and DC going into 2023.
And if you can handle some of the prerequisite snark, here’s Joseph Goodman’s opinions on the situation:
Who will Saban and sports agent Jimmy Sexton — I mean Byrne — bring in this time? If I had to put money on it, my guess is Dan Mullen will be Alabama’s next offensive coordinator and Jeremy Pruitt will return to be the defensive coordinator. They’re both great coaches, and they’re both clients of Sexton who are looking to rehab their images.
Here’s my thinking on Mullen, who coached Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and, later as the Gators’ head coach, Kyle Trask at Florida. In between his stints at The Swamp, Mullen had Dak Prescott at Mississippi State. The common denominator here is that Mullen is pretty good at coaching dual-threat quarterbacks.
Whoever Saban hires at offensive coordinator will be a good indicator of who his preferred starting quarterback will be going into spring practice. Milroe seems to be the leader, but if Saban hires a coordinator with pro-style experience, then Simpson would be my pick to start for Alabama in 2023.
On defense, Pruitt’s track record as a coach is familiar to everyone in the SEC. This would be his third stint with Saban in Tuscaloosa. Pruitt was Saban’s defensive coordinator in 2016 and 2017 and those defenses are considered some of the best of Saban’s dynasty.
But what about “a head coach in waiting?” Mullen and Pruitt wouldn’t be on my short list for that position. Thinking of the future at Alabama, I couldn’t be more impressed with the job former Crimson Tide player DeMeco Ryans has done as the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers.
Jeremy Pruitt is likely the only person on the planet that Alabama fans would approve of at defensive coordinator. And Dan Mullen at OC...? I like his scheme and playcalling, no doubt, but I can’t see that being a culture fit with Nick Saban at all.
As far as DeMeco Ryans.... As awesome as that would be, Ryans is the DC for the best defense in the NFL the last two seasons. The dude is likely right on the cusp of getting an NFL head coaching job, so hoping he’s come be a college assistant coach is laughable at best.
After losing the consistency of J.K. Scott to the 2018 NFL draft, Alabama spent the next three seasons bouncing between five different punters. Burnip has steadied the position in attempting all 91 punts the past two seasons, for an average of 41 yards.
He is hardly alone among Australian punters in college football. Six of the past nine winners of the Ray Guy Award given to the nation’s best punter have been Aussies, with Sporting News counting 56 punters from the country among FBS teams two seasons ago. This season, every Division I team in Florida had an Australian punter on its roster.
Burnip and his counterparts might not have grown up peeling bloomin’ onions, but they know how to kick a ball.
As something of a punting enthusiast, I’ve complained incessantly that Alabama’s punting from 2018-2021 were not only underwhelming, but absolutely unacceptable. Even in Burnip’s first season in 2021, the punting was an issue. With how well college offenses are moving the ball in the current era, punting has become even less valuable, and punts less than 40 yards are nearly worthless.
Quietly, though, Burnip improved significantly in year two. He had six 50+ yard punts (Alabama only had two total punts over 50 yards in the previous two seasons) and averaged over 42 yards per punt, a 4 yard improvement from his first season.
He was an underwhelming punter in year 1, and improved to a good one in 2022. If he keeps up the pace of improvement, he could become an actual special teams weapon next year.
Moving on to hoops, Alabama plays Mississippi State tonight, and we will have more coverage for you here on RBR throughout the day.
Since then, the teams have gone in different directions. Alabama, 17-2 overall and ranked second in the nation, has run its SEC record to 7-0, while the Bulldogs have struggled to a 1-6 league record (12-7 overall). Not only has Bama won its first seven SEC games, it has been dominant, winning all by double digits, an average margin of 21 points per game.
But Tide Coach Nate Oats isn’t taking comfort from the game from a month ago or from the records in this first rematch Alabama will have this season.
The most notable aspect of the Starkville game was that Mississippi State made only 18 of 36 free throw attempts. The Bulldogs’ top player, Tolu Smith, was only 3-15.
“We can’t count on them missing free throws,” Oats said. While there was speculation that Alabama was fouling Smith purposely, Oats said that wasn’t the case at all, that it was a matter of poor defense that just happened to work out.
“Coaching as long as I have, it’s natural that you’d have to fight it when you’re having success like we have right now,” Nate Oats said Tuesday. “But I think this group’s done a really good job fighting it on their own. We talk about not getting complacent and how maybe last year’s team did after we had some early good non-conference wins. But I think this group’s pretty mature, and I think the maturity, the professionalism, the depth of the team, all of it helps.
“Guys are mature and understand what we’ve got at stake. We’re playing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. We’re playing for an SEC championship. We can’t afford to have a letdown. If you wanna be playing your best basketball in March, you’ve gotta continue to get better every game. So I think there’s a maturity about them. I think we’ve got a lot of guys that are very professional. The freshmen and how they act, I think they’re in to get better at basketball, they’re here to make themselves better and they understand they themselves individually have to get better.”
It’s a good time to be an Alabama fan in basketball right now. If they can keep up playing with the intensity and dominance we’ve seen so far this season, this team has a very, very real shot of winning it all. But, as Oats says above, they have to avoid the complacency that can creep in with sustained success.
The Tide also started off really hot in the 2021-2022 season before faltering once the year swapped to January. They’ve continued the great play into January this time, but have to keep it up going forward.