Hayes: The vultures are circling. And Nick Saban is waiting ... and smirking
You would think, after all those championships and all those elite players and all that capital built, the guy would get the benefit of the doubt.
But the vultures are circling, everyone.
Nick Saban, apparently, doesn’t know what he’s doing. Which means Alabama is on the verge of collapse, which means the end is closing on the horizon.
All because the greatest college football coach ever replaced 2 coordinators with 2 coaches who may or may not have soothed the unsettled masses.
What Pete Carrol and Mack Brown and Urban Meyer and Les Miles and Chip Kelly and Urban Meyer (again) and Jimbo Fisher and Chris Petersen and Dabo Swinney and Ed Orgeron couldn’t do, Kevin Steele and Tommy Rees will.
By now you’ve heard the grousing. Steele, the longtime SEC assistant, is past his prime, and Rees is too young. Both weren’t Saban’s first choice, and if anything says Saban has lost his fastball, that does.
At least Steele, 64, has a track record. Rees is 30 years old, and has only coached in the controlled bubble that is Notre Dame. What could he possibly bring to Alabama?
My head hurts just writing the absurdity of it all.
Look, I’ve criticized Saban for many things, most recently his hypocritical desire to play both sides of the NIL argument. Or when he acted like a petulant child last year with Fisher, or — and I absolutely abhor this — the reality that every single Alabama loss comes with a caveat.
He’s a terrible loser, and even worse with excuses for those rare losses.
One thing he’s not: a bad judge of coaching and talent.
Another thing he’s not: a coach who will take chances to the detriment of his players.
Lane Kiffin wasn’t a chance in 2014; it was a calculated moved to change his offense from a run-oriented, play-action pass offense, to a spread, tempo-based offense that could thrive with both pro style and dual-threat quarterbacks.
When Kiffin left for FAU, Brian Daboll wasn’t a chance offensive coordinator hire in 2017. He was another calculated move — this time aimed at developing quarterbacks, and growing the position at Alabama.
Daboll, coach of the New York Giants and one of the top quarterbacks coaches in the NFL, spent 1 season in Tuscaloosa and made huge strides with starter Jalen Hurts and freshman backup Tua Tagovailoa — who grew so much under Daboll in less than 1 season that Saban thought about replacing Hurts in the middle of a championship run.
Tagovailoa then replaced an ineffective Hurts in the national title game, and won it for the Tide.
Mike Locksley wasn’t a chance. Nor were Steve Sarkisian and Bill O’Brien. For all the whining and complaining about O’Brien, it was the Alabama defense in 2022 — Saban’s prized defense — that failed to protect 4th-quarter leads in both last-play losses to Tennessee and LSU.
Alabama scored 80 points and had 1,034 total yards in those 2 losses.
It was 2 untimely injuries in 2021 to star wideouts John Metchie III and Jameson Williams that prevented Alabama from winning it all — not O’Brien.
Now here we are with Rees, whose coaching resume includes a year as a graduate assistant at Northwestern, a year as an offensive assistant with the San Diego Chargers and 6 years with Notre Dame — the last 3 as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach and play-caller where the Irish averaged 33.4 points per game over that span.
What could he possibly bring to Alabama, you ask?
Saban hired Kiffin because of the way his 2009 Tennessee team played the Tide, and how prepared they were. And his track record as a quarterbacks coach and play-caller.
Saban tried to hire Hugh Freeze as offensive coordinator a few years ago before SEC commissioner Greg Sankey nixed the deal. Freeze’s Ole Miss offense confused Saban’s defense in 2014-15, and played a huge role in back-t- back wins over the Tide.
So you can bet Saban liked what he saw of Rees when preparing for Notre Dame in the 2020 Playoff. The Irish lost 31-14 in the national semifinal, but something stuck.
Maybe it was the the way the Irish quarterback Ian Book played against heavy odds. Or maybe it was that Notre Dame quarterbacks have a TD/INT ratio under Rees of 127/41.
Or that after Notre Dame lost starter Tyler Buchner late in the 2nd game of the 2022 season, backup Drew Pyne went 8-2 as a starter and had 24 TDs (2 rush) against 6 INTs.
Or maybe Saban also liked the way Rees was caught by a television camera dog-cussing Pyne and extolling him to stay focused, and thought, “been there, done that.”
Who cares why?
In 16 years, Nick Saban hasn’t made a mistake when hiring coordinators. Not once.
He couldn’t pull Ryan Grubb from Washington or Joe Moorhead from Akron to run his offense, and who knows who else to run the defense.
He’ll take his No. 1 recruiting class with 9 5-star players, and he’ll begin 2023 with a brand new quarterback (likely another former 5-star recruit) — and will be 1 of 2 favorites to win the national title.
Nothing about that is by chance.