- Seven on-field assistant roles have changed hands since the Crimson Tide lost in the national title game.
You don’t need to switch head coaches to make big waves in the college football coaching carousel. From Ohio State’s hiring of two Michigan assistants to fill out Ryan Day’s first staff last month to Oklahoma’s midseason firing of defensive coordinator Mike Stoops (which eventually led to the hiring of new DC Alex Grinch away from Columbus), every staff change at a Power 5 program now brings big-picture implications for the season ahead and the recruiting battles to come.
No one endures staff turnover as gracefully as Nick Saban, and the Alabama head coach will spend this offseason breaking in seven on-field assistants who weren’t part of his program last season as the Crimson Tide made their run to the national title game.
That’s not to say this process doesn’t provide an annual source of pressure on Saban. Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley had already taken the top job at Maryland before the national title game, and defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi’s fate was sealed by the Tide’s lackluster performance against Clemson. Quarterbacks coach Dan Enos was in line for a promotion to offensive coordinator, but he abruptly chose to join a new staff at Miami. Recruiting ace and co-OC Josh Gattis is now running Michigan's offense.
On Friday, Alabama formally announced its corresponding moves that had trickled out with the news of each departure. Here’s what you need to know about everyone who will (officially) be helping Saban out in on-field roles this fall.
Karl Scott, cornerbacks: Scott had the task of rehauling the entire secondary following the 2017 season. Now, he should have some stability at the position with the return of Trevon Diggs from a midseason broken foot and the continued growth of Patrick Surtain II, the five-star son with NFL bloodlines who had 28 tackles, one interception and seven passes defensed for Alabama in his true freshman season.
Jeff Banks, tight ends/special teams coordinator: With Irv Smith Jr. (44 catches, 710 yards, 7 TDs) and backup Hale Hentges both moving on, there will be offseason ink spent on Banks's offensive concentration in addition to the special teams units that broke down at very public times last year. Kedrick James and Miller Forristall are the most likely candidates to step in as TE1, but James’s status is unclear for 2019 after his suspension late last season for violating NCAA rules.
Pete Golding, defensive coordinator/inside linebackers: Golding spent his first year in Tuscaloosa as inside linebackers coach after a stint at UTSA that made him a hot name in coaching circles. Alabama ranked third in the SEC in total defense, scoring defense and rushing defense last season, but they must replace Quinnen Williams and Isaiah Buggs on the defensive line and Mack Wilson at linebacker. Previous units have had to replace much more significant talent drains, which should keep expectations high for Golding’s first year coordinating Saban’s defense.
Steve Sarkisian, Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks: Sarkisian flamed out as USC’s head coach, landed in Tuscaloosa as an offensive analyst for the 2016 season and was promoted to OC for the Crimson Tide’s last-second loss to Clemson in the national championship game. Sarkisian led the Falcons’ offense for the past two seasons, and while many Atlanta fans were happy to see him go, his familiarity with the program he almost coordinated to a title made him a logical choice for Saban to restore some familiarity after the departures of Locksley, Enos and Gattis.
Sal Sunseri, outside linebackers: Sunseri returns to Alabama after one season at Florida coaching the defensive line. He was the Tide’s assistant head coach and linebackers coach under Saban from 2009 to 2011 and was also on Saban’s staff at Michigan State. Sunseri’s two sons, Vinnie (who played safety at Bama from ’11 to ’13) and Tino (a three-year starter at QB for Pitt), are also on staff as graduate assistants.
Charles Huff, associate head coach/running backs: Huff spent one season at Mississippi State and four at Penn State, where he had the pleasure of coaching Saquon Barkley for all three seasons of his college career. The Crimson Tide’s depth in the backfield should be a similar luxury.
Holmon Wiggins, wide receivers: Wiggins, who was rumored to be up for a coordinator spot at Temple, spent three seasons on Justin Fuente’s staff at Virginia Tech. Wiggins has a load of talent at his disposal as the Crimson Tide return their top three receivers from 2018.
Kyle Flood, offensive line: Flood is another Falcons offensive assistant heading west who is more notably the latest failed Power 5 head coach to come under Saban’s umbrella. Over the course of a rocky four-year tenure at Rutgers, Flood was suspended for three games after contacting a university professor concerning a player's academic status, and seven players were arrested in Flood’s final season.
Brian Baker, associate head coach/defensive line: Baker has a load of NFL experience, but he has spent the past three years in charge of Mississippi State’s defensive line, which culminated in a dominant 2018 unit led by Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat, who terrorized SEC offensive lines and helped the Bulldogs finish second in the FBS in rushing defense at 2.87 yards allowed per rush.
Charles Kelly, associate defensive coordinator/safeties: Kelly was Tennessee’s special teams coordinator and safeties coach last year but before that was on Jimbo Fisher's staff at Florida State, including four seasons as defensive coordinator. Kelly was the linebackers coach on the Seminoles’ 2013 title squad.