Mike Locksley's promotion to Alabama OC says a lot about Nick Saban's offensive perspective
It’s somewhat incredible to think about.
In the 13 months after Alabama beat Washington in the 2016 Peach Bowl to advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship, three people held the title of the Tide’s offensive coordinator. Since Lane Kiffin modernized the Alabama offense, the coordinator position has been nothing but a revolving door.
Nick Saban had no problem dismissing Kiffin before the title game to get an early start on his new chapter at FAU. Saban just promoted Steve Sarkisian. When Sarkisian surprisingly left for the NFL, Saban just plucked one of Bill Belichick’s offensive assistants, Brian Daboll. When Daboll followed Sarkisian’s path to an NFL coordinator position of his own, Saban just promoted Mike Locksley to become the Tide’s new offensive coordinator.
The word “just” is worth repeating because given the high-pressure nature of the position, Saban certainly didn’t go to the ends of the earth to find some offensive mastermind. That’s not a dig at Sarkisian, Daboll or even the recently-promoted Locksley.
At a position that’s had more turnover than a telemarketing call center, Saban’s hiring of his offensive coordinators suggests that all he wants is stability. Well, stability in the system, that is.
Stability in personnel? Eh, whatever.
I know what you’re thinking. Two of those post-Kiffin coordinators were promoted from within the program. They (Locksley and Sarkisian) only got their starts at Alabama as offensive analysts. Doesn’t that suggest that Saban is doing whatever he can to hold his staff together?
In a way, it does. I thought Paul Finebaum made some good points in his assessment of Saban’s promotion of Locksley. Keeping a guy loved within the locker room with a phenomenal reputation as a recruiter was a nice benefit. Was the move made entirely because Saban is worried Alabama is slipping in recruiting as Finebaum suggested? It’s an easy connect-the-dots considering Alabama is likely going to finish without the nation’s top-ranked class for the first time since 2010. There could be some truth to that.
But I’m not convinced that Locksley’s promotion was strictly Saban’s attempt to prevent Alabama from falling behind in recruiting. Alabama was always going to have a smaller class in 2018 and the end of that streak appeared inevitable. Plus, it’s not like Saban hired Daboll 12 months ago because he was some master recruiter.
What this speaks more to is that Saban feels he has the perfect offensive system in place (from Kiffin) and all he needs is someone with familiarity calling plays who is willing to study/master it. It didn’t matter that Daboll used more of a rotation at the skill positions than Kiffin did. Again, it’s about the system.
All signs suggest that Locksley will come in and be willing to follow the Kiffin playbook. At least he should. It’s not like Locksley’s offenses were particularly productive during his days as a coordinator/head coach:
[table “” not found /]
To recap, 2 of Locksley’s 11 offenses finished ranked in the top half of all FBS teams, the best of which finished No. 40. I’m not saying that Locksley is by any means a bad coach. All I’m saying is that you could’ve formed a line of offensive-minded coaches from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham who had better on-field résumés than Locksley.
Saban obviously doesn’t care about that, nor does he care about the criticism he faced for hiring the likes of Daboll and Locksley. To Saban, the offensive coordinator position isn’t about being some up-and-coming offensive mind who lit up scoreboards at a Group of 5 school. Those guys tend to want to do things their way.
You want someone with creativity? The system will take care of that. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
This is still the program that went to three consecutive national title games after Kiffin laid the foundation for the modern Alabama offense. The Tide was one defensive stand away from winning all three, too, despite the fact each of those games were coached by different offensive coordinators. For a team with a defensive-minded coach like Saban, that feat is incredible.
What Saban did with his coaching staff was much like what he did with Alabama’s roster in the past decade. No one player was too valuable, and neither was any one coach. Saban’s unmatched success will continue to be built on a system, and finding the right people who are willing to surrender to it. It’s the model that every program in America is after, yet only Alabama has it truly mastered.
Saban promoted Locksley to do a job that, in the eyes of some, he’s not qualified for. When the Tide isn’t rolling on offense at certain points of 2018, Locksley will face the same type of pressure that Daboll did. Some will direct their frustrations at Saban for promoting Locksley in the first place. But Saban usually finds a way of silencing those critics by season’s end.
Rings tend to have that kind of effect.