SAN JOSE, Calif. — Dan Enos credits everything to fifth grade. On the first day of practice for the Dearborn Thunderbirds, his youth football team in Michigan, Enos was eager and excited to play running back. It was his first time ever playing football, and that was the position he’d imagined playing. Practice began with the kids playing catch 10 yards away from each other. Two minutes into the drill, coach Doug Lucas waved Enos over.
“He said, ‘I’m going to teach you how to take a snap, you’re going to be our quarterback,’” Enos says. “From that moment on, I’ve been a quarterback.”
Since earning all-state honors at Edsel Ford High School and playing for Michigan State from 1987 (Nick Saban's final year as the Spartans' defensive coordinator) to 1990, Enos has been a coach with a passion for his own position. When Saban hired him last February, he joined his 12th school. In 11 months in Tuscaloosa, the former Arkansas offensive coordinator has become one of the most important people in the Alabama program, shaping a crowded quarterback room that includes Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa and SEC championship game hero Jalen Hurts.
“I think you can see that the proof is in the pudding in that both Jalen and Tua have gotten better and continued to improve each game,” said offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, who will become Maryland’s head coach after Monday’s title game.
After spending five years as the head coach at Central Michigan, Enos left to work for Bret Bielema as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Arkansas. During his three years with the Razorbacks, Enos opened up the offense and had two quarterbacks throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season. Saban ended up stealing Enos away from Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Michigan, which he briefly joined as an offensive assistant last January after Bielema and his staff were let go at Arkansas.
Enos came to Tuscaloosa one month after Tagovailoa’s storybook second-half comeback against Georgia for the national championship. His sole responsibility has been to coach quarterbacks, an opportunity made possible by the new NCAA rule that allows teams to add a 10th assistant coach. Focusing on one job made it easier to evaluate and establish relationships with a group of quarterbacks he hadn’t recruited. It also allowed Locksley freedom to be a “walk-around guy,” in the words of the OC, who was able to tend to whichever position group needed him the most.
“It’s helped me being able to make the big-picture part of it,” Locksley said. “This is the first time I’ve kind of did this model where I’m not coaching the quarterback and calling plays, and it’s afforded me the opportunity to have my hands on just about every position within the offense.”
Enos was warned by peers what he was walking into in Tuscaloosa: a quarterback controversy on the defending national champion and preseason No. 1 team. It was a challenge Enos accepted and, remarkably, managed well enough to hold the room together. After Tagovailoa earned the starting job, Hurts stayed with the program instead of taking advantage of the NCAA's new redshirt rule and transferring mid-season; reports indicated that the opportunity to continue developing under Enos factored into Hurts’s decision. Hurts reaped the benefits and was ready to come in for an injured Tagovailoa in the SEC title game to save Alabama’s season.
Players appreciate Enos's organizational skills; that’s one of the first ways he earned his quarterbacks’ trust. Third-stringer Mac Jones says that every time they walk into the meeting room, Enos already has notes laid out at each seat. He also appreciates how Enos can simultaneously make film study interactive with jokes and take extra time to evaluate each QB individually.
“Stuff he does is just way above,” Jones says.
Tagovailoa, who was initially skeptical of Enos because he didn’t know him, likes how he has expanded their vocabulary and communication. For example, the quarterbacks now use streamlined terminology like “movement key” instead of saying, “This is the person we’re reading.”
“Last year, we didn’t get as much attention focused on just the quarterback position,” Tagovailoa said. “I think he’s definitely refined it by the way we go about things, how we communicate, and our footwork and whatnot. We’ve all got to be on the same page.”
Enos says he has a “tremendous passion” for strategy and X’s and O’s, and he has improved his quarterbacks’ mechanics. Even Crimson Tide players at other positions have noticed.
“I mean, just watching them go through their footwork,” says senior tight end Hal Hentges. “A lot of times you see quarterbacks go through the same old three-step drop, five-step drop that everyone does, but the way they do it seems more intentional. Other positions do footwork to get warmed up, but they’re doing it to get prepared for a game.”
Alabama’s quarterbacks do a lot of drills focused on run-pass option plays, which were unstoppable against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, and work on throwing quick strikes on the run. Thanks in large part to Tagovailoa’s Heisman runner-up campaign, the Tide have the nation’s sixth-best passing offense, averaging 325.6 yards per game with 50 passing touchdowns. It’s by far the most potent passing attack Saban has ever had at Alabama, his second-best coming in 2014, when quarterbacks Blake Sims and Jake Coker combined to throw 32 touchdown passes and finished 29th in the nation with 277.9 yards per game through the air.
Enos, who will reportedly be promoted to offensive coordinator after Locksley leaves, doesn’t want to take too much credit for putting his mark on Alabama’s quarterback success this year. But his impact is indisputable, and he's positioned to see his influence only grow from here.
“He’s changed me dramatically as a person and a player,” says Jones. “But I mean you can see the results from Jalen and Tua. Those guys have improved, obviously you can tell that from their play and the mental aspect, we’re in there every day trying to get better and doing extra work.
“He provides the easiest way to get that going.”