If it’s true that Butch Jones is set to join the University of Alabama football staff as an analyst, a move that shouldn’t surprise anyone especially considering Nick Saban’s hiring history, the Crimson Tide’s relationship with rival Tennessee will take another interesting turn.
Jones had been the Volunteers’ coach since 2013. Before him was Derek Dooley, a former Saban assistant coach at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins, and Lane Kiffin, who of course became Alabama’s offensive coordinator (2014-16). On the flip side, Tennessee recently looked to the Crimson Tide for its next coach, Jeremy Pruitt.
With Saban’s reputation for rehabbing the status of coaches firmly entrenched, he continues to stockpile former coaches and future coaches alike. The latter gets the most attention, but the former has been a significant part of the Crimson Tide’s success.
A wide-ranging mix is what he ideally covets, especially when it comes to experience. For example, on Saban’s initial coaching staff at Alabama was Joe Pendry, who from 2007-10 was the Crimson Tide’s assistant head coach and offensive line coach.
Just four years ago, five of Alabama’s 10 coaches had head-coaching experience at the Bowl Subdivision level: Mario Cristobal, Kiffin, Kevin Steele, Bobby Williams and, of course, Saban.
This season, there’s offensive coordinator Mike Locksley (New Mexico 2009-11, Maryland interim 2015) and quarterbacks coach Dan Enos (Central Michigan 2010-14). Granted, Locksley was 3-31 as a head coach and Enos 26-36, but the experience is the important thing here.
“I was a head coach once and went back and worked as an assistant, and that’s a difficult transition for anybody,” Saban said.
He made the comment after hiring Kiffin, who has since returned to the head coaching ranks at Florida Atlantic, while Cristobal is now at Oregon.
“I think it kind of goes both ways,” Saban continued. “I think you learn a little from them, I think they learn a little from you. I think you can make subtle changes in what you do to make it more effective because of the input you get from your staff.
“The more experience that your staff has, obviously I think the better they understand the big picture and have the kind of foresight that you need to have that you know when you make changes, what the cause and effect of those changes are going to be.”
Of all the former head coaches Saban has hired to be an assistant, only two have had a winning record. Kiffin was 35-21 at Tennessee and USC, but 5-15 at the NFL level, and Steve Sarkisian was 46-35 at Washington and USC.
Sarkisian only coached one game for Alabama, the National Championship Game two seasons ago, but otherwise spent that season as an analyst.
That’s the role Jones would fill if hired, but the way Alabama’s coaches get hired away, you can’t rule out Jones getting promoted. More likely is that another college will give him a second chance at being a head coach.
He was 34-27 at Tennessee from 2013-17, and 84-54 overall (Central Michigan 2007-09 and Cincinnati (2010-12). Despite numerous issues, the 2016 Volunteers set program records for points scored (473) and touchdowns (63).
Overall, not including stints as interim head coaches, or at another level, there have been 53 Alabama assistant coaches who at some point of their careers served as a head coach at the Bowl Subdivision level.
During the pre-Saban years, just 15 were head coaches before joining the Crimson Tide as an assistant coach, and in only four instances were two on the same staff together: 1946, 1989, 1994, 1997.
What Saban has done is essentially add another layer with his analyst positions. In his view, the more knowledgeable people contributing the better, even if they did coach at a rival like Tennessee, and Jones is familiar with the rigors of the SEC.