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For Alabama Football, Continuity in Returning Coordinators is Key in 2022

Both offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien and defensive coordinator Pete Golding are back for 2022, and if history is set to repeat itself, that spells trouble for the college football world.

It's no small secret that for Alabama head coach Nick Saban, keeping coordinators in Tuscaloosa has been no easy task. It seems that every offseason, the coaching tree springs another branch, with coordinators leaving the Crimson Tide to spread their metaphorical wings and assume a head coaching role — or possibly a role in the NFL — and leaving their time at Alabama behind.

In fact, heading into Saban's 17th season at Alabama, the amount of times that offensive and defensive coordinators both carried over from the previous season is surprisingly few. Former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and offensive coordinator Jim McElwain managed to stay with the Crimson Tide from 2008-11, but that by far is the longest tenure of an OC/DC duo, ranging a total of four seasons.

Smart and former OC Doug Nussmeier worked in back-to-back seasons in 2012-13, as did Smart and Lane Kiffin in 2013-14. After Smart's departure to land the head coaching job at Georgia in 2016, the instance of both coordinators returning has happened only twice, both with current defensive coordinator Pete Golding.

From 2019-20, Golding served as DC alongside OC Steve Sarkisian. And now this season, Golding serves his second-straight season with current OC Bill O'Brien, dating back to 2021.

There is certainly a price that comes with success, and for Alabama football under Saban, that price has oftentimes been the departure of coordinators. The season following the Crimson Tide's loss in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, though — to Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs, no less — that price wasn't paid this offseason.

At the 2022 SEC Football Kickoff Media Days in Atlanta, Saban spoke highly of both coordinators, noting that returning both is not an often occurrence in T-Town.

“From a staff standpoint, this is the first time in a long time we've had both coordinators — continuity in both coordinators — which I think is probably an important thing for us," Saban said. "The new coaches that we have brought in to replace coaches on our staff have fit in extremely well. They made a positive contribution in the relationships they've been able to develop with players and the energy and enthusiasm and new ideas they've brought to the organization.

"We're very, very pleased with the staff that we have right now in terms of how they can contribute to developing our team.”

Of Saban's six titles since coming to Alabama, four of those titles came when both coordinators carried over from the previous season. For the Crimson Tide's national championships for the 2009 and 2011 seasons, Smart and McElwain were at the helm. In 2015, it was the second season under Smart and Kiffin, and in 2020, it was Golding and Sarkisian's second season together.

With the titles in 2012 and 2017 serving as the only two seasons that Saban and Alabama won titles without returning both coordinators from the prior season, that means that exactly two-thirds of the Crimson Tide's national championships under Saban have happened when both coordinators return for the next season.

And this season, that is happening once again.

Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young spoke about the return of O'Brien in 2022, echoing Saban's sentiments on how beneficial it will be having an offensive coordinator return for a second-consecutive year.

“That comfort level is really big," Young said. "I love [O'Brien], I love playing for [O'Brien] and he was someone that was really instrumental in our success on offense and my success individually last year. I think when he first got in it was a bit of a filling out process, but we developed a lot of trust throughout the offseason and throughout the season. And now with having that season under our belt — us even having a deeper understanding for what each other [is] like — us kind of being able to go back and forth and I kind of know what he's going to call before he calls it.

"He knows what I like and what checks I'm probably going to make before I make them, so that comfortability is something that’s really big from a quarterback/OC perspective.”

Thanks to the nine-season tenure of Smart in Tuscaloosa, Alabama has had far more turnover at offensive coordinator under Saban compared to defensive coordinator. Since Saban's arrival in 2007, Alabama has had seven offensive coordinators compared to just four defensive coordinators.

This offseason, Alabama's players have been adamant that last year's loss in the title game signified failure. While many teams would have simply been happy to have made it to a championship appearance, the Alabama standard fell short in their eyes.

Young might have won the Heisman Trophy, but has reiterated time and time again that he considers last season as a failure. Outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr. echoed the same sentiment at SEC Media Days.

“All the blood, sweat and tears that we put into a season is towards getting to the national championship and winning it,” Anderson said. "And last year we got there and we did not finish the way we wanted to.”

Many Alabama fans have dubbed the 2022 season as a 'revenge tour' of sorts. Heading into last season's game at Texas A&M, Saban was a perfect 25-0 against former assistant coaches in head coaching roles. Now, he sits at 25-2 after losing to Jimbo Fisher at Bryan-College Station and Smart and Georgia in last season's national title game.

In two of the four times that Alabama has been bounced in the CFP, the Crimson Tide has won the championship the following season. It did so in 2015 and 2017 after falling in 2014 and 2016. 2018 serves as the odd year out as Alabama failed to make the playoff in 2019, settling for a Citrus Bowl victory over Michigan.

And following the 2021 title game loss to Georgia, the outcome of the 2022 season has yet to be seen. One thing is for certain, though. If history is indeed prone to repeating itself, then the entirety of the college football world had better look out for the Crimson Tide this season. Its coordinators are back, its head coach appears pleased with the team's mentality, and the players are hell-bent on seeking revenge.

It's a recipe that we've seen cooking before, and it spells trouble for any team not called the Alabama Crimson Tide.