Butch Jones to Alabama? That move says more about Nick Saban than the ex-Tennessee coach
Classic Nick Saban.
Alabama reportedly hiring Butch Jones as an offensive analyst is so fitting for the Tide coach that I’m mad at myself for not predicting that this would happen a month ago. Maybe I spent too much time thinking about what Jones would want his next move to be instead of thinking about what Saban’s next move would be.
Let’s not forget that Jones probably could have gone elsewhere and tried to rebound as a coordinator or position coach at a lower-profile program. I’m not saying that his phone was blowing up with offers, but I don’t think he was blackballed as a potential assistant.
As a head coach, he probably didn’t stand a chance. I mean, head coaches have to face the media and recruit. Selling Jones as the face of a program right now is like trying to sell kids on why they should ditch Snapchat and get on Myspace.
As an analyst, though, that was a much easier sell. For Saban.
Yes, I actually believe that Saban reached out to Jones and sold him on the idea of coming on board for a season as an analyst. I don’t believe it was the other way around. Why?
Saban’s brain doesn’t work like yours or mine. He didn’t see a coach who was just laughed off podiums for referencing 5-star hearts or champions of life. One of the attractive elements of the analyst position is that it doesn’t have media obligations. And that’s why Saban didn’t see Jones’ media follies as an issue.
No, what Saban saw was an available, offensive-minded coach who once scored points against his defense. That’s always worth something to Saban.
Does it matter that Jones’ offense averaged just 8.8 points per game in 5 meetings against Saban? No. Does it matter that Jones’ team never had an offensive touchdown longer than 12 yards in those matchups? Definitely not.
Saban is so anal that he’s probably more interested in getting some intel on how the Vols gained 34 yards on that pass play to Josh Malone when they ran double-steam routes out of the run-pass option in the fourth quarter against the Tide in 2015. Maybe Saban wants to pick Jones’ brain to find out if that 43-yard pass to Cody Blanc back in 2013 was supposed to be a back-shoulder throw in the middle of the field, or if it was as Gary Danielson speculated on the CBS broadcast, just “woefully under-thrown.”
Neither of those things would surprise me. Saban is a sponge for knowledge. If one person can help him gain an advantage on one play, it’s worth it.
And while Jones’ offense failed miserably in his later days in Knoxville, let’s not forget that once upon a time, it could actually score against SEC defenses. It feels like a lifetime ago that Tennessee put up 34 points on Kirby Smart’s defense and won on that miracle in Athens back in 2016. For all we know, Saban wants to steal some offensive wrinkles from that Tennessee game plan.
Jones has 5 years of experience game-planning against SEC opponents. And while many of those ideas didn’t work out, that’s still of some value. Saban might not be eager to learn about anything Jones did in 2017, though. Actually, Saban is so anal that maybe he’s bringing in Jones to tell him everything that didn’t work against SEC teams.
Whatever the case, Jones at least adds something to Alabama. Keep in mind that while Alabama won a national title, it wasn’t an offensive juggernaut throughout 2017. Before the title game, Alabama’s offense averaged 23 points per game in 6 matchups against teams with winning records. That’s not exactly a unit that should turn its nose up to someone who can, in Saban’s eyes, provide value. That was especially true after losing offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to the NFL.
Saban is who he is because he’s always learning. More importantly, he’s always willing to learn.
His acceptance of Lane Kiffin’s offense helped add the current chapter of Alabama’s dynasty. Saban didn’t care about his past or what the public said about him being hired. Saban knew that Kiffin was capable of impacting an offense.
To a lesser extent, it appears that Saban took that approach with Jones. After all, he’s only going to be an analyst. He’s not about to start calling plays or taking the lead on game plans. And in all likelihood, this will just be a 1-year experiment until the dust settles on Jones’ heated departure and he can get back to an on-field role somewhere.
In the meantime, it’ll be an odd reality to see Jones rocking Alabama gear. A year of learning the Alabama way from Saban could do Jones a world of good. It’ll be a coaching rehab of sorts for Jones.
At the very least, we know that Saban will detox Jones of his “champions of life” references.