On a college football staff, there’s a difference between a title and one’s duties. One can have the title of “offensive coordinator” while still being a couple of steps from calling plays. The latter is always worth specifying.

When we found out that Ryan Grubb wasn’t going to be following Kalen DeBoer to Alabama as his first play-caller in Tuscaloosa, I wondered.

Would DeBoer delegate those duties to someone on his staff? Would he make a splashy outside hire and bring in someone like Mizzou’s Kirby Moore to be the OC/full-time play-caller? Or would he take those responsibilities on himself and be his own primary play-caller for the first time since 2019, when he was Indiana’s OC?

DeBoer reportedly will go with the first option. According to multiple reports, new Alabama tight ends coach Nick Sheridan is being promoted to become the Tide’s OC/play-caller:

I approve of that. Or rather, I approve of the logic of that even if I don’t know that Sheridan will be Grubb 2.0 or anything close to that.

What I do know is that delegating play-calling duties makes sense for DeBoer. Adding even more to his ever-growing plate by taking on play-calling duties didn’t make sense. A Year 1 coach has enough to worry about. DeBoer has recruiting in a new area, media obligations, transfer portal evaluations, NIL, schmoozing to get that NIL money, coaching football, etc.

Once upon a time, you could be an elite coach and handle primary play-calling duties. Jimbo Fisher did that successfully at Florida State, and he did it to his detriment for far too long at Texas A&M.

Here’s another wild thought — Fisher is the last head coach to win a national title while handling his team’s primary play-calling duties. That happened in the final year of the BCS era in 2013. Since then, we’ve watched more coaches take a more big-picture approach to play-calling duties. Sure, we’ve seen coaches like Lincoln Riley and Ryan Day call plays at a high level, but the standard for DeBoer at Alabama is always going to be winning a national championship. Neither of those guys has done that.

By the way, that stat is based on the belief that Nick Saban and Kirby Smart weren’t primary play-callers. Yes, they had their hand in their respective defenses, but we’re talking about the duty of being the lead play-caller, not who has the final say.

Lane Kiffin and Josh Heupel took that approach on the offensive side. Even as great offensive minds, they delegated play-calling duties after arriving at their current SEC programs.

That’s what DeBoer did at Washington. As in, the program where he just went 25-3 — he was a combined 5-0 vs. Steve Sarkisian and Dan Lanning — and he led Washington to a national title berth while earning AP Coach of the Year honors. That place.

When DeBoer has been at his absolute best, he had a trusted primary play-caller. Sheridan has a chance to be just that. This is the third different program and 4th season overall that he’s been with DeBoer. After becoming DeBoer’s OC successor at Indiana, Sheridan became the Big Ten’s youngest coordinator in 2020. That yielded great highs like IU’s 2020 squad earning its first AP Top 25 finish in 32 years, and it yielded great lows by leading a dreadful 2021 offense that failed to finish inside the top 100 nationally, which resulted in Sheridan’s firing.

Yes, Sheridan’s last job as a coordinator was that 2021 season. Michael Penix also suffered a season-ending injury and it was 1 season with total autonomy, which will be different than working with (in theory) a healthy Jalen Milroe and having DeBoer oversee the offense.

Sheridan played a part in 3 different legs of Penix’s recruitment. Sheridan was a GA with major day-to-day duties in the quarterback room at Tennessee when Penix committed to the Vols, he was IU’s quarterbacks coach when the Hoosiers sent their entire staff to visit Penix in Tampa after Tennessee pulled his scholarship offer and on the same day that Penix announced that he was transferring to reunite with DeBoer at Washington, the Huskies announced that Sheridan was joining the staff as the tight ends coach.

His approval rating among quarterbacks is high. Former Tennessee QB Josh Dobbs called Sheridan “the man” and former IU quarterback/Penix injury replacement Peyton Ramsey said that Sheridan was “one of my all-time favorite human beings” (via Indy Star).

The best way to have a high approval rating in Alabama? Dial up prolific offenses. In each of the past 15 years, Alabama has averaged at least 32 points per game. It did that with a variety of offensive coordinators and schemes. The expectation for Sheridan and DeBoer is that they’ll continue that streak.

There’s no guarantee that happens. It’s tricky to project what the post-spring roster will look like for an Alabama squad that already had 33 players enter the transfer portal. For all we know, Year 1 will be a disaster and Sheridan will either be firmly on the hot seat or he’ll be stripped of play-calling duties.

I don’t have a crystal ball. Neither does DeBoer. If he did, perhaps he wouldn’t have had to make a new hire after a month on the job. Shoot, who needs to have someone else serve as a primary play-caller if you’ve got a crystal ball?

Until that comes into DeBoer’s possession, I don’t have any issue with him delegating play-calling duties to someone like Sheridan.