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Alabama coach Nick Saban

Alabama football: Breaking down the new-look coaching staff

Welcome to The Rammer Jammer, SEC Country’s daily Alabama athletics recap. Today, we look at Alabama’s coaching staff and preview basketball’s matchup with UGA. 

Nick Saban broke some minor news at the Senior Bowl on Tuesday when he told the press that he expected no further changes to his staff after a short offseason of upheaval.

The slowly-then-all-at-once departure of Lane Kiffin was obviously the first domino to fall, as the embattled offensive coordinator fled to the sunny shores of Boca Raton to coach Florida Atlantic. From Alabama’s point of view, this is as good a result as could be hoped. Kiffin was always leaving Alabama this spring, and his new position takes him out of the SEC, out of the Power 5, and into an area where his recruiting prowess won’t really trouble Saban, who can still expect to pilfer the top recruits from the Miami area.

Of course, Kiffin was replaced by Steve Sarkisian, likely another best-case scenario for Alabama. Sarkisian retains the same basic philosophy as Kiffin, with the same quarterback whispering capability and California recruiting connections, but more flexibility and a tendency toward more direct football. Judgment on Sark’s play-calling ability should be held until he gets to call plays from his own playbook — so not the national championship game.

The worst personnel change for Alabama probably came on the offensive line, when Mario Cristobal left to become an offensive coordinator at Oregon. Cristobal’s biggest impact wasn’t on the field, but in recruiting, where he landed some of the top recruits in the nation. He’s sorely needed at Oregon and will be sorely missed at Alabama.

He was replaced by Mike Locksley, who was an offensive analyst for Alabama last season, much like Sarkisian. He came to Alabama after a decorated head coaching stint, like Sarkisian and Kiffin, most recently as coach of Maryland and New Mexico before that. Locksley’s role hasn’t been defined (though some have pegged him as a co-offensive coordinator), but, like Cristobal, he’s a well-known recruiter, and, as an assistant, helped build the classes that would eventually lead Florida to the national championship.

The most important offseason move for Alabama, if Saban is correct, is no move at all: the retention of Billy Napier on offense and Tosh Lupoi on defense. Both are top-tier recruiters and top candidates for coordinator jobs on their side of the ball. With Cristobal leaving, Napier and Lupoi’s presence will stabilize Alabama’s current recruiting class and ongoing efforts.

ICYMI

  • Saban also spoke about Julio Jones and his future NFL long snapper, Cole Mazza.
  • O.J. Howard formally met with the New Orleans Saints to begin his draft process.
  • Former West Virginia and Florida State quarterback Clint Trickett will be Alabama’s new offensive analyst. He last coached at East Mississippi Community College, and his father, Rick, coached under Saban at LSU.
  • And Roll Bama Roll’s tribute to the seniors continues with Dalvin Tomlinson. 

Seatbelt check

Alabama’s basketball team travels Wednesday to Athens, where it will attempt to right a ship listing after a 20-point loss to Auburn. A win won’t come easy; the picture lays out worse for Alabama than it did against its in-state rivals.

Georgia holds a sizable advantage in points scored per game, assists per game, free throws attempted per game and defensive rebounds per game, and narrow margins in average score margin and total rebounds per game. In short, Georgia’s offense is much better and more efficient than an Alabama team that still struggles to penetrate out of the half-court offense.

Worse, the defensive stats are not as one-sidedly crimson as they have been in Alabama’s SEC wins. True, Alabama gives up four points fewer on average than the Bulldogs, but Georgia actually holds teams to lower shooting percentages. Alabama gets more blocks and steals, thanks to quick-footed bigs, but a three-board margin on defensive rebounds spells trouble for an Alabama team that struggles to contend in the post on both sides of the floor. Add in Yante Maten, the UGA forward averaging 19 points and 9 rebounds a game, and you have a troubling recipe for Alabama.

The game tips off at 9 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

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