TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When they posed for the annual picture of the Alabama football coaching staff, it was what you would expect.
Nick Saban was in the middle, holding a football, with defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt on his immediate right and new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll on the left. Everyone was in uniform, wearing a white Crimson Tide shirt, khaki pants and white shoes.
It wasn’t like last year when a certain offensive coordinator stood out by wearing bright red shoes.
“I’m pleased with the staff, the staff chemistry,” Saban said during Alabama’s annual on-campus media day on Saturday.
“I think it’s been really good so far.”
Saban not being the main event on this day is normal at Alabama, especially since media day and fan day are one and the same, and crammed into morning and afternoon sessions. It’s the only time he makes his coordinators available to reporters outside of the mandatory press conferences at bowl games, so this was Daboll’s de-facto introduction even though he was hired in February.
When it was his turn at the podium, one of Daboll’s first confirmations was that his name is pronounced like the word table, or Day-bull. Another was that he’s encouraged by the work ethic starting quarterback Jalen Hurts has shown and his progress during the offseason.
But what everyone in the room really wanted to know was what it’s been like working for the two coaches who have been dominating football on the NFL and collegiate level, Bill Belichick and Saban. Not only had he been a graduate assistant for Saban in 1998-99 at Michigan State, but has since spent the majority of his pro career winning Super Bowls with Belichick’s New England Patriots.
Specifically, he began as a GA in 1998-99, moved up to defensive assistant (2000-01) before being named the wide receivers coach (2007-08). From there he had stints with four different NFL teams, including as the offensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs, before heading back to the Patriots as an offensive assistant (2013) and tight ends coach (2014-16).
One has to wonder if 11 seasons under Belichick is like dog years in that they go well beyond the normal calendar, especially when factoring in playoff games.
“I’ve had a tremendous amount of respect for Bill and Coach Saban, they’ve been great mentors,” he said. “Obviously extremely smart, extremely successful and I appreciate the way they do things.
“They make it easy to work for them. There’s a standard, you know the standard. You’ve got to meet it every day. And if you don’t, there’s consequences. I think it’s very fair, demanding, but I like the work environment from those guys.”
Daboll is in many ways an extension of that, as he’s been described by peers and players alike as being personable, meticulous and extremely well-organized. All of those traits were on display during Alabama’s A-Day Game in the spring, along with being driven, accountable and having high expectations.
“The players respond to that, especially the young guys just learning that,” junior guard Ross Pierschbacher said. “He’s a demanding guy, but we get results. I think that practice has run smoother and it’s just been good.”
Daboll says that’s “just kind of my DNA, just to full-steam ahead,” which goes back to before he got into coaching or played at William & Mary. It began with the grandparents who raised him. He describes them as being old-school, but many of the traits they emphasized are the same ones being taught to the Crimson Tide.
“Detailed, organized, demanding, expect you to do it the right way,” Daboll said about his mentors.
“There’s no excuses to be made. You have a job to do, you go do it. Our mantra is ‘Do your job,’ and that’s what everyone in the organization has to do is do their job. I can’t play offensive line, although I might look like it right now, and they can’t do our job. So, everybody’s got a job to do.”
Consequently, of all the offensive coaches Saban’s hired over the years, perhaps no one had a better idea of what he was in for than Daboll. He’s had the easiest transition and might turn out to be the best fit as Saban’s offensive coordinator since Jimbo Fisher at LSU. Only one has lasted more than three seasons at Alabama.
Saban’s offensive coordinators at Alabama
It’s not quite like being the Defense of the Dark Arts teacher in Harry Potter books, and the group has been anything but jinxed. Major Applewhite is the new head coach at Houston, and Jim McElwain is at Florida with Doug Nussmeier his offensive coordinator. Steve Sarkisian left after coaching just one game to be the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons.
When Lane Kiffin left Alabama before the national championship game to focus on his new job at Florida Atlantic, Daboll viewed Alabama as too good of an opportunity to pass up. Saban saw a sort of kindred spirit who had the potential to be a very good fit with everyone, from the coaches down to the players, and just what the Crimson Tide needed following Kiffin.
“Coach Kiffin was a great coach, but Coach Daboll is very down to business,” Pierschbacher said. “Coming from the Patriots … Coach Belichick runs a tight ship there just like Coach Saban does. It meshes pretty well.”
Daboll should be able to take what Kiffin did, which was cater the play-calling to the fit the talent and execute different offenses with Blake Sims, Jake Coker and Jalen Hurts, but mold it more into the overall system that Saban covets. It means being more pro-style at its essence, but also developing Hurts so that he can be more effective at the next level in addition to this one.
“I think he’s a very, very good quarterback coach,” Saban said. “I think he’s helped Jalen mentally. I think he’s got a better understanding and confidence, especially in the passing game, of what he needs to do and what’s expected of him. I see a lot of improvement from that standpoint.”
Fans attending Saturday’s open practice got another taste of that, while everyone else will have to wait for the season opener against Florida State on Sept. 2. In the meanwhile, the man not wearing red shoes will keep plugging away.
“Very encouraging, great coach,” Hurts said. “He builds a great relationship with all the offensive players — even some of the defensive players. He’s a great guy to be around and a great leader.”