Nick Saban has gone with Tommy Rees and Kevin Steele as his two new Alabama coordinators.
Over the course of the weekend, Nick Saban has replaced his two former Alabama coordinators of note with Tommy Rees and Kevin Steele.
Rees takes over for Bill O’Brien as the offensive coordinator. The former Houston Texans head coach left to be back with Bill Belichick on the New England Patriots. This move brought Rees from Notre Dame to the SEC West a year after his college head coach Brian Kelly took over at LSU. While this is a good career move for Rees in his very early 30s, the SEC West can be so unforgiven.
As for Steele, he replaces Pete Golding, who left for the same role in-division on Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss Rebels staff. This is the third time Steele will be on Saban’s Alabama staff in some capacity. While Steele may have a strong reputation as a defensive coordinator, not everyone in Tuscaloosa is thrilled that he is back. Steele thrived at Auburn, but bailed on Mario Cristobal after one year.
So much will be made about the Alabama coordinator pairing, but did Saban make the right calls?
Nick Saban hires Tommy Rees and Kevin Steele as his new Alabama coordinators
There is no way around it. How these two coordinator hires pan out will determine if Saban wins another national championship at the helm of the Crimson Tide program. Georgia is not going away in the SEC East, Tennessee is much improved and Florida cannot be down for that long. As for in the division, LSU and Ole Miss have the right head coaches. Auburn seems to have theirs.
Replenishing the coaching pool is what ultimately did Pete Carroll in at USC nearly two decades ago. Saban is incredibly youthful in his early 70s. He may still have a passion for recruiting and has made it a career on being adaptable at the profession. However, you are always rolling the dice when having to replace one top assistant after another. This has been a yearly tradition for him…
When it comes to Rees, he is an up-and-coming offensive mind. While the Notre Dame offense was largely hit-or-miss with him guiding it, look for the offense to extend beyond the tackle box at Alabama. He will have to hit on the wide receiver position group, but Rees has never worked with such a deep player pool like the one he will have at Alabama. There is upside with this hire for sure.
However, all of Saban’s offensive coordinators of note were nowhere near as green as Rees. All had been through some stuff before. More importantly, they were able to grow and adapt under his guidance. Simply put, the pressure is on Rees to be anywhere close to what O’Brien, Steve Sarkisian, Mike Locksley, Brian Daboll and Kiffin all were before him. This position carries royalty.
As for Steele, he is what he is at this point of his coaching career. The excellent job he did as Gus Malzahn’s defensive coordinator at arch rival Auburn still carries a ton of weight. Truth be told, that run may be closer to an outlier than how he typically performs at his job. No, it is not going to be the unmitigated disaster of what he was at the turn of the century coaching the Baylor Bears…
Overall, you can expect for the Alabama front-seven to be flying around and making tackles for a loss in the defensive backfield. This does pair nicely with Saban’s proficiency for coaching up his defensive backs. Together, they can get back to building a winning formula for the Crimson Tide defensively. It used to be their calling card, but it seems as though Alabama has lost its way a bit.
As we discuss both hires from the jump, you make like one more than the other, you may dislike both, but one thing is consistent in this first-glance assessment: Nobody loves the pairing entirely. Personally, I am more in favor of Steele over Rees because I at least know what Steele can do in the SEC. Again, Rees has the higher upside, but he is also 30. The SEC is not for the faint of heart.
Ultimately, Saban should be given the benefit of the doubt over hiring this pair of coordinators. Nobody has done this exercise more frequently than Saban, and nobody has done a better job of navigating these murky job search waters better than him. No, Rees is not Kiffin and Kirby Smarts only come around once in a lifetime. Regardless, we must trust Saban to have made the right calls.
The expectation is the whole will have to be greater than the sum of its parts with these two hires.