Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Roll Tide-ings, a rundown of everything happening in Alabama Crimson Tide recruiting with Chris Kirschner. Today, we talk the latest with Alabama’s 2018 recruiting class.
Quick take on a bad take
Dr. SEC, as the so-called radio host calls himself, took to Twitter to make a bad diagnosis on Alabama’s recruiting prowess.
Dr. SEC tweeted, “I am not saying that Alabama’s on-field dynasty is necessarily coming to an end; however, their recruiting dynasty has. There is a reason Nick Saban is wearing a backward hat and dancing in living rooms, he knows it. The question is when the talent gap is gone, can he still win?”
It’s a truly bad take. Saban was dancing when the Tide had the No. 1 recruiting class for seven years running. Here he is doing the Electric Slide back in 2014. Here he is doing the Cupid Shuffle back in 2007. Point being, Saban dancing isn’t some new phenomenon. If you really want to hyperventilate, here’s Saban driving a speedboat while his players go tubing. Gasp! Saban likes to have fun! Saban knows how to connect with young adults!
People act like Saban having fun with people more than 40 years younger than him is something new. It’s not, and it’s an overplayed storyline. In fact, almost every recruit I’ve interacted with since I started covering recruiting in 2015 has said Saban is one of the most personable coaches around.
Here’s what Alabama cornerback signee Eddie Smith, whose father filmed Saban doing the Cupid Shuffle a few weeks ago, said about his future coach.
“Getting to know him and his wife was great,” Smith said. “My dad and mom love them both. It’s fun to be around Coach Saban. He’s cool. You’d think with all of the success he had that he would be cocky. That’s not Coach Saban at all. He’s a great person. He takes care of his players.
“My dad told me he had so much fun. Like I said, Coach Saban is a lot of fun to be around, and I feel like not many people see that side of him. My dad and mom had a great time with him.”
Maybe The Doc should take a few more doctorate classes before spewing out nonsense on the timeline next time.
But is he right by saying Alabama’s recruiting dynasty is over? The 2018 class, which finished seventh in the rankings, was Alabama’s lowest-rated signing class since 2007, but let’s take a look at why the Tide’s recruiting dynasty is far from over.
Coaching turnover big reason why Alabama missed on key targets
If Tennessee’s coaching search wasn’t such a disaster, Jeremy Pruitt is probably still Alabama’s defensive coordinator. The Volunteers missed on numerous head coaching targets before hiring Pruitt. The loss of Pruitt hurt the Tide on the recruiting trail.
Alabama likely signs 4-star linebackers JJ Peterson (Tennessee) and Quay Walker (Georgia) if he remains in Tuscaloosa. If those two players are added to Alabama’s 2018 class, the Tide finish fourth in the recruiting rankings. Pruitt also was a big factor in 4-star wide receiver Jacob Copeland’s recruitment. Copeland told SEC Country that if Pruitt remained in Tuscaloosa, there was a good chance he would have ended up signing with Alabama over Florida. If Copeland signed with Alabama, in addition to Walker and Peterson, Alabama finishes third instead of seventh.
What about losing defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley to the Oakland Raiders? He was the primary recruiter for Walker and Justyn Ross, who signed with Clemson. Ansley was starting to turn into an elite recruiter before he left for the NFL. He had a very strong relationship with Ross and his family. The state of Alabama’s No. 1 prospect told SEC Country that of all the coaches he was recruited by, he was closest to Ansley. Perhaps if he stays, the Tide end up signing Ross, too.
Alabama has also had three offensive coordinators in the past 13 months, with Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian and Brian Daboll all getting opportunities elsewhere. The Tide also lost offensive line coach Mario Cristobal to Oregon and wide receivers coach Billy Napier to Arizona State in that time frame, too. Cristobal and Napier are elite recruiters. And don’t forget that Mel Tucker and Kirby Smart left.
The Tide also lost defensive line coach Bo Davis in 2016 and replaced him with longtime NFL assistant Karl Dunbar, who returned to the NFL on Thursday. Dunbar did an outstanding job coaching on the field but, at points, was a liability on the recruiting trail because he just hadn’t recruited anyone since 2005, when he was at LSU. There’s no doubt that Davis is a better recruiter than Dunbar, but the latter wasn’t as bad as some fans made him out to be.
That’s a whole lot of assistants that Saban needed to replace, and that matters because recruiting is all about relationships with assistants. They’re the ones putting in the legwork to make sure these players end up signing with Alabama. Saban commented on Wednesday about his thoughts on all of the coaching turnover that his team experienced.
“In recruiting, especially when you start recruiting guys two years in advance, when they feel comfortable and develop relationships with people, certainly it can have an effect on how comfortable they feel with other coaches,” Saban said.
“I think this year was probably a little different because there were so many coaching changes,” Saban said. “So, those coaching changes were much more aggressive in the late signing period because they got their staffs together and, in some cases, created new opportunities for players. But maybe next year it won’t be that way.”
So, how did he combat that as we look forward to the 2019 class? Saban hired assistants Jeff Banks (special teams), Josh Gattis (wide receivers), Karl Scott (defensive backs) and Pete Golding (role unclear) to the staff. All those guys are considered to be great recruiters. They’re young, energetic and personable. That’s going to help out the Tide on the recruiting trail.
The talent level in key battleground states
Throughout the recruiting cycle for the 2018 class, I had a lot of people ask why Alabama wasn’t recruiting more players from the Yellowhammer State. There just weren’t many elite players in the state this past cycle.
Alabama only had interest in a handful (Ross, Jalyn Armour-Davis, Coynis Miller, Asa Martin, Andres Fox, Seth Williams, Malik Langham, Michael Parker). The Tide signed Armour-Davis and Parker.
We already touched on Ross. Miller was only wanted by Pruitt. The rest of the staff didn’t like his game that much. The same goes for Fox. Alabama got involved in Martin’s recruitment late. He came close to choosing Alabama but Auburn convinced him that its depth chart at running back was more appealing. It worked. Williams grew up in the Tuscaloosa area but wanted to get away from home. Langham signed with Florida on Wednesday. That was a miss, especially after losing defensive lineman Bobby Brown to Texas A&M.
The good news is the talent level in the state of Alabama in the 2019 class is great. There are already two 5-star prospects in offensive linemen Pierce Quick (committed to Alabama) and Clay Webb (likely leaning toward the Tide). There are two elite quarterbacks with ties to the school (Paul Tyson, who is Bear Bryant’s great-grandson, and Taulia Tagovailoa, who is Tua’s little brother). There are elite defensive linemen, linebackers and a couple of defensive backs, too. That’s going to help Alabama in the next cycle.
The lack of talent in Alabama wasn’t the only state that hurt the Tide. Mississippi was way down. There wasn’t one target Alabama strongly pursued throughout the recruiting process in the 2018 cycle. It’s a state that Alabama usually does well in. But, like Alabama, Mississippi has elite talent in the 2019 class. The Tide already have a commitment from 4-star athlete Brandon Turnage from the state. They’re also in good position with 4-star prospects Nakobe Dean and Nathan Pickering, the top players in Mississippi.
That hurt. The same goes for Louisiana, a state Alabama usually raids. Alabama only signed two prospects from the state (Eddie Smith and Slade Bolden). Alabama pursued Kelvin Joseph, who is from Baton Rouge, La., but he decided to play for his city’s school in LSU. Alabama got into Glenn Beal’s recruitment late, and he signed with Texas A&M. The Tide had a commitment from Dare Rosenthal at one point, but he likely wasn’t going to stick. That was it, though.
Georgia was a state that had lots of talent in the 2018 class. The problem? A lot of those players the Bulldogs signed from the state grew up wanting to play for Georgia. Smart locked down the borders and got those guys to sign. Mark Richt had a problem with that when he was at Georgia, and it’s a reason that led to his ouster. That’s not going to happen in the Smart era.
It’s certainly going to be more challenging to recruit Georgia moving forward, but it hasn’t been the kindest state to Alabama over the years, anyway. Since 2007, Alabama has signed 35 players from Georgia. Two of them turned into All-Americans. Six of them were drafted. Fourteen of them ended up transferring, not qualifying, getting dismissed or never playing for the team at all. The state of Georgia has so much talent in the 2019 class, so perhaps Alabama lands quality players in this next cycle.
The current depth chart in Tuscaloosa
I’m not going to make this a big deal because Alabama had the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class for seven years in a row, so, of course, there’s going to be lots of talent on the roster.
But there are so many position groups currently in Tuscaloosa that are stacked with players (quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, middle linebacker, outside linebacker). That’s, of course, used against Alabama on the recruiting trail in a negative way.
I don’t think the stacked roster was the reason Alabama failed to sign the No. 1 class, though, because, as I said, the Tide have had loaded rosters since these guys were in elementary school. I think the coaching turnover and the lack of talent in key states were the bigger reasons.
In the end, with the hiring of young, energetic assistants and the talent level being up in key states, I expect Alabama to compete for the nation’s No. 1 class once again in 2019.
“Trust me when I say our 2019 class will be better than the insane 2017 class,” 2019 5-star offensive tackle commit Pierce Quick told SEC Country. “Coach Saban was just telling me last weekend that he feels our class is the first really good in-state class since (2008, when the Tide signed wide receiver Julio Jones among 19 players from the state), which will definitely help recruiting.”
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