Alabama enters spring practice with a largely new coaching staff and plenty of hot-shot recruits.
Same old expectations, though.
The Crimson Tide is in the very early stages of trying to gear up for what the team hopes will be its latest run toward the national championship game with the sting of a humbling defeat to Clemson still painfully fresh. The Tide opened spring practice Friday with new offensive and defensive coordinators for the second straight season, seven new coaches and 15 early enrollees from the nation’s top recruiting class.
“We’ve got a lot of new faces around here,” coach Nick Saban said. “It was good for them to become part of the team. The No. 1 goal and objective for the spring is we have to re-establish the Alabama Factor.
“We’ve always been a team that plays with a tremendous amount of discipline, had a lot of responsible and accountable guys who could go out there and do their job and be dependable. And everybody’s always put the team first. The result of that has been we’ve been able to win a lot of games, guys have got a lot of individual accolades, got a lot of opportunities to play at the next level, and we’ve been able to win a few championships. I think it’s important to re-establish that.”
To Saban, that includes maintaining a measure of humility and not letting past success deter you from preparing the right way so that “you don’t develop bad habits.”
Convincing his team of that after five national titles over the past decade should be easier this go around. After all, the Tide ended last season with a 44-16 demolition at the hands of Clemson in the title game. It came after a regular season when Alabama was scarcely challenged and had its most potent offense of the Saban era, with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa finishing as the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
Then seven players declared for the NFL draft , leaving Alabama to replace six defensive starters and five on offense. The losses include players like running backs Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs, left tackle Jonah Williams, defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and safety Deionte Thompson.
New faces abound on the sideline as well — again.
Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian returns to a job he held only for the national championship game loss to Clemson in January 2017 after Lane Kiffin’s departure.
Pete Golding was promoted to run the defense during the staffing overhaul.
In fact, none of the coaches from the 2017 national championship team are still on the staff — except, of course, Saban.
Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley left to become Maryland’s head coach. Defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi took an assistant’s job with the Cleveland Browns.
Sarkisian was the splashiest hire.
The former Washington and Southern California head coach spent most of the 2016 season as an offensive analyst for the Tide. He left after the championship game to be run the Atlanta Falcons’ offense , but was fired after last season along with the defensive and special teams coordinators.
Saban said it’s not fair to criticize Sarkisian for the results of the title game at Alabama after taking over on such short notice.
“I think if you look at the body of work with the Falcons, they were like sixth in the NFL in offense or whatever so there’s got to be some level of expertise to allow them to do that,” Saban said. “The players that I talked to there thought he did a really good job and was a good coach. He’s, I think, a tremendous asset on our staff and we’re very pleased and happy to have him.
“We had a whole list of people we went through to hire and I feel like we were really, really fortunate to get a guy that was offered the Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator job to come to Alabama, and had a successful stint in the NFL.”