Saban's Offensive Changes Mirror Bear Bryant's
By Dan Harralson
Just as it was described on ESPN's annual ESPY's award show, "One second and 109 yards – it happened."
The Iron Bowl kick-six happened, and just like that, Alabama's quest for an historic national championship three-peat went out the window.
Since Auburn's Chris Davis returned the missed 57-yard field goal for pay dirt, a lot of turnover has taken place at Alabama. Head coach Nick Saban discussed the changes at SEC Media Days this week in Hoover, Alabama. Namely, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin replacing Doug Nussmeier.
"We had three changes on our staff," Saban said. "Lots of interest in Lane Kiffin, who has done a really good job. New energy, new ideas. I think anytime anybody has knowledge and experience, it certainly contributes a lot of value in your organization. Lane certainly has been helpful in a lot of areas."
However, the new areas went largely undefined at SEC Media Days. What exactly could the new areas be referring to? Could Saban be making the change to a more uptempo scheme – adapting to the new ways of life in college football? Receivers Christion Jones and Amari Cooper were present at SEC Media Days and both discussed the new Kiffin offense, as well.
Jones mentioned to reporters that "the offense would be vastly different from Nussmeier's – and could be spread out with receivers lining up everywhere." Cooper seconded the comments by elaborating that the offense will be play-maker happy.
"Coach Kiffin wants to get the ball in play-makers' hands," Cooper said.
It's obvious that Saban does not want to give any details for how the offense will be orchestrated – nor should he have to. But what is not obvious is the change.
Bear Bryant suffered through back-to-back five-loss seasons in 1969 and 1970 – and it was time for a change.
“We don’t awe anyone now,” Bryant said prior to the 1971 season. “We are back among the ordinary folk, and I don’t like it.”
Texas installed the wishbone in 1968, and the Longhorns won the 1969 and 1970 national championship. As a result, Bryant installed the wishbone offense and the rest is history. He won nine SEC championships and three national championships from 1971-198, after he made those offensive changes.
Saban realizes the game of football goes through different eras of ideas and that the game changes schematically. Championship coaches change as the game changes – and this is why Saban is implementing a new offense as his previous ideas went stale.
The irony is that Saban is making the changes now after a loss to Auburn and Oklahoma. Bryant did the same prior to the 1971 season after losing to Auburn and tying Oklahoma in the Bluebonnet Bowl.
Defenses eventually figure out offensive schemes, and new successful schemes cause for others to adapt. The wishbone went out of fashion and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier's fun-and-gun required tweaking. Coaches will eventually figure out a way to make the no-huddle spread a thing of the past.
But for now, Saban has made the needed changes for Alabama and is aiming to end his career like Bear ended his – by winning more championships.
2014 Alabama Schedule Prediction
Wins: West Virginia, FAU, Southern Miss, Florida, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Western Carolina
Toss-ups: LSU, Auburn