- Turnover among Nick Saban's assistants is nothing new, but this round comes with implications for the nation's most talked-about transfer.
At Alabama’s media day ahead of the national championship game last weekend, Dan Enos was never alone. Reporters encircled him, hanging on his every word. He spoke on many subjects, from the bounceback-ability of his previously injured star quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, to the evolution of Alabama’s offense. He skirted around questions about his reported and expected promotion as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator, and he seemed to talk more about one specific topic than any other: the progression and future of backup quarterback Jalen Hurts. How will you survive without him in your position room?
Maybe he won’t have to. In a twist that few saw coming, Enos is not remaining with the Tide but is instead joining Manny Diaz’s staff at Miami as offensive coordinator. It would plenty of sense for Hurts, who entered the transfer portal this week, to follow him to Coral Gables. The two have a “great relationship,” Enos said last weekend, and he helped develop Hurts from a run-first QB into a guy who passed Alabama to a comeback win over Georgia in the SEC championship game. On Wednesday, Hurts and Diaz began following one another on Twitter (gasp!). But really, connecting the dots here isn’t all that difficult. Miami has been in desperate need of a quarterback for years, something that even QB guru Mark Richt couldn’t rectify. Some would say the position is the missing piece to returning the Hurricanes to The U. (New Maryland head coach Mike Locksley, who was Hurts’s offensive coordinator in Tuscaloosa this year, also needs a QB.)
Enos’s departure not only signals a potential landing spot for Hurts but also continues an oft-discussed trend: Alabama assistants leaving in waves. Staff attrition is normal in college football, but few programs endure as much annual turnover as the Tide. Already four of Nick Saban’s 10 on-field assistants have left: Enos (Miami OC), Locksley (Maryland HC), receivers coach Josh Gattis (Michigan OC) and O-line coach Brent Key (Georgia Tech O-line). It’s the fourth-straight year that Saban has lost—or pushed out, because that does happen—at least four staff members. In all, 17 coaches have left Saban’s staff since the 2015 season, a period over which Alabama has gone 55–4 and played for the national title each season.
The turnover at Alabama speaks to many things: the desire of other programs to replicate Saban’s success by hiring his protégés; Saban’s aggressive, relentless pursuit of perfection; and staff casualties of the grind of working under him. Saban hinted at some of this in an interview last year with Sports Illustrated, speaking about the hiring process. “You can get comfortable hiring people who have worked for you before. Sometimes that’s not always the best thing,” he said. “Maybe there’s a younger, more aggressive person out there who is going to be the next really good coach.” A former Saban assistant reached Friday says working for the man can be exhausting. There’s no real downtime. Recruiting is a second season in which losing out on a five-star prospect at your position in the spring is just as bad as a loss on the field in the fall. “What’s good enough for him?” the ex-assistant asked aloud.
Saban has had so much turnover over the last three years that only one coach from his 2016 staff remains with him: co-defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi. Four others were hired new last year and the other, Joe Pannunzio, just completed his second season. If you include Steve Sarkisian’s one-game tenure as offensive coordinator in 2016, Locksley’s replacement will be the fifth offensive coordinator in four seasons. How this hasn’t impacted the Crimson Tide on the field is an incredible testament to Saban and his plethora of five star players, but it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Clemson receiver Justyn Ross has recently exploded onto the scene with two dominant playoff performances, leading some to wonder why Ross became the first top-ranked recruit in the state of Alabama to sign with someone other than the Tide since 2012. He provided that answer last week. “The stability that Clemson has,” Ross says, “they don’t really have coaches leaving in and out like that and learning different stuff every year.”
Alabama’s staff flux is as confounding as Clemson’s staff cohesion. Six assistants have been on the Tigers’ staff for at least six consecutive years. Saban lost his last long-timer after last season: Burton Burns moved into an administrative position from his 11-year stint as Saban’s running backs coach, and Kirby Smart’s nine-year tenure with Saban ended after the 2015 season with him landing the top job at Georgia. After just one season on staff, Enos abandoned a ship stocked with incredible talent, including the Heisman Trophy runner-up and a couple of future NFL draft first-round receivers, for a rebuilding effort in Coral Gables. The Enos-to-Miami transaction was complete days ago, too, Diaz told The Associated Press’s Tim Reynolds. So, while he sat at media day answering questions about his backup quarterback’s future, Enos probably knew his own future wasn’t in Tuscaloosa. Maybe he’ll soon be coaching Hurts again. And maybe Alabama, staff turnover and all, will be back next year playing for a national championship.