ATLANTA — Every year one coach loses a coordinator to a head coaching job or to a similar position in the NFL, while the other coach pretty much keeps his base set of coaches intact.
For a fourth year in a row, Alabama heads into the College Football Playoff with a coordinator who is already on his way out the door. Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley was named Maryland’s new head coach earlier this week.
Locksley, who was in his first year as Bama’s offensive coordinator, joins a growing list of former Alabama coordinators who are now head coaches. Since 2015, the Crimson Tide has lost Kirby Smart to Georgia, Lane Kiffin to Florida Atlantic, Jeremy Pruitt to Tennessee and now Locksley to Maryland.
The Tide has also had to replace offensive coordinators Brian Daboll and Steve Sarkisian to the NFL in recent years as well.
“Well, we’ve been very fortunate to have some outstanding assistant coaches, and they’ve done a really good job for us,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said during Thursday’s College Football Playoff Coaches Press Conference at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. “I think because of the success that we’ve been able to sustain, obviously they work hard, as I worked hard when I was an assistant. So, you could have the next opportunity, and we’re certainly always happy for them, that they have the opportunities to go on and be head coaches.”
Over at Clemson, it has been a little quieter when it comes to coaches moving on.
Though the Tigers have a lot of success under head coach Dabo Swinney, very few coaches have moved on in the last seven years. Former offensive coordinator Chad Morris left to become a head coach at SMU, which he is now at Arkansas, while defensive ends coach Marion Hobby moved back to the NFL to coach the same position for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Dan Brooks, who coached Swinney’s defensive tackles for his first eight years in Clemson, retired after the Tigers won the 2016 National Championship.
“So, you know, it’s good,” Swinney said. “But we’ve got several guys on our staff that will have opportunities to be head coaches at some point, whenever that time comes, and you hope that you do a good job in preparing them for that opportunity if they want to do that, and you wish them well.
“And then, again, as (Saban) said, it’s great for them but also an opportunity for you to bring new energy into your building.”
The crazy thing is both programs have proved it works both ways. Despite losing all the coaches he has in recent years, Alabama is still on top of the college football world. It is the defending national champion and is ranked No. 1 heading into the College Football Playoff.
“I think that you love continuity on your staff, but I always look at this as a challenge and an opportunity to add new energy, new enthusiasm, new ideas to your staff,” Saban said. “We don’t change our program. We don’t hire people to come in and be independent contractors and do what they want to do. They sort of have to buy into what we do, but the new ideas, the new energy and enthusiasm that they bring is always very helpful to improving our program.”
Swinney on the other hand has been able to keep up-and-coming head coaches like defensive coordinator Brent Brent Venables, co-offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott in Tigertown longer than most expected, and as a result the continuity on the staff has allowed Clemson to win 95 games in the last eight seasons to go along with five ACC titles and one national championship.
“We’ve had really good continuity over the past few years,” Swinney said. “We’ve had some change on our peripheral staff and support staff and some things along the way, but just two years ago, Marion Hobby went to be the co-D-coordinator I guess with the Jaguars. Dan Brooks retired, had been with me from day one, so it gave me an opportunity to hire Lemanski (Hall) and Todd Bates and to promote Mickey (Conn), so those were guys that had been kind of on our staff in a support role.
“So, it created new opportunity for them.”
And yet, here they are again. Alabama is No. 1 in the country and is making its fifth straight appearance to the CFP. Clemson is No. 2 in the country and is making its fourth straight trip to the CFP. If things go like most think, then they could meet for a fourth straight year in the CFP and for a fourth straight year, the winner will claim the national championship.
Though Swinney and Saban coach differently, the results are still the same.