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Continuity Key for Bama Bounceback

By Matt Smith
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I didn’t see it coming. You didn’t see it coming. Nobody saw it coming. Alabama was finally destroyed.

I didn’t see it coming. You didn’t see it coming. Nobody saw it coming.

Alabama was finally destroyed. 

It hadn’t happened like that to the Crimson Tide since Nick Saban was at LSU and doing the destroying. No. 2 Clemson dominated No. 1 Alabama in every phase of Monday night’s College Football Playoff Championship Game, scoring the final 30 points in a 44-16 rout to become the first top-division team since the 19th century to finish 15-0.

How did Clemson do it?

Well, it wasn’t just the Tigers’ slew of NFL talent, as the Crimson Tide’s sophomore and junior classes that were each ranked No. 1 in the nation are full of future Sunday players. Yes, Clemson played as close to a perfect game as you’ll ever see on a stage that big. However, that doesn’t tell the whole tale of what took place in Levi’s Stadium on Monday night.

Saban and Alabama were outcoached. Period. There was nothing presented on defense to throw off Clemson’s freshman phenom quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The red zone offense was a disaster. The failed fake field goal in the third quarter was a debacle.

Did the greatest coach in college football history just finally lose his fastball? Of course not. Saban isn’t done winning national championships, even if he was on the wrong side of the most one-sided national championship game since his 2012 Alabama team defeated Notre Dame by an identical 28-point margin.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention Alabama’s freshman class as being ranked No. 1 in the nation like the two before it. That’s because it wasn’t. Former Saban disciple Kirby Smart put together a higher-ranked 2018 class at Georgia than his mentor – an upset not all that more shocking than what happened between the white lines on Monday night.

Saban remade his coaching staff after last season’s national championship. He had to replace both coordinators, as offensive coordinator Brian Daboll left after one year to return to the NFL with the Buffalo Bills, and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt took the head job at Tennessee. He chose to build a younger staff that would bolster recruiting.

He promoted former Recruiter of the Year Tosh Lupoi from to defensive coordinator. Lupoi is still in his thirties. To take over Lupoi’s old role, Saban brought in 35-year old Pete Golding, then the defensive coordinator at UTSA. Longtime offensive assistant Burton Burns retired, and Saban plucked 34-year old Josh Gattis away from Penn State to coach wide receivers.

In regards to recruiting, it worked, as Alabama heads into the second signing period next month with close to a lock on another No. 1 class after the ever-so-slight dip a year ago. However, the staff shakeup may have cost Saban on the field.

While Saban routinely replaces coordinators and position coaches, Dabo Swinney has maintained stability at Clemson. Since 2012, Swinney has only had to make one coordinator change, and that was the internal promotions of Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott to co-offensive coordinators after Chad Morris left to be the head coach at SMU following the 2014 season. Seventh-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables whose unit shut out Alabama in the second half, has repeatedly eschewed inquiries from schools looking for a head coach to remain in Death Valley.

Clemson’s senior class this season never experienced a coordinator change in their four years. Alabama’s offensive seniors had four different coordinators, and the defenders had three. Even with the head czar as great as Saban is, it’s hard to maintain consistency in performance, in preparation, and in process with so much staff turnover.

The adjustments we’ve grown used to seeing from struggling Alabama teams weren’t there on Monday night. Would previous staffs with Smart and Pruitt and Lane Kiffin have figured out an elixir for the Tigers like they did in the championship game three years ago when Alabama rallied for a 45-40 win? Maybe Clemson was simply too good this year, but seeing the Crimson Tide be completely without answers was uncharted territory in the Saban era.

What’s next for Alabama? Well, first, it’s another coordinator change, as offensive coordinator Mike Locksley coached his final game with Alabama on Monday before taking over the head position at Maryland.

There will be some familiarity on offense, as quarterbacks coach Dan Enos will replace Locksley. Enos has already been a head coach (Central Michigan, 2010-2014), and voluntarily left that position to be a coordinator at Arkansas. He may not be looking to return to the head coaching ranks anytime soon.

Lupoi isn’t a candidate for any college job worth leaving Alabama for, so if Saban wants to keep him, he should stick around. Golding is considered a rising star by most in the profession, but is young enough to remain patient in carving out his career path. That bodes well for Saban, who, now that he has seemingly solved his recruiting “problem”, needs to develop a staff that can do a much better job on gameday than it did on Monday night.

For years, Clemson and everyone else have tried to emulate Alabama. Now, it’s Alabama that needs to do the emulating. Continuity and stability helped Clemson shock the world on Monday night – both the presence of those factors in its own program, as well as the lack thereof in Tuscaloosa.

In order for Alabama to get back to the top of college football, it need look no further than its postseason rival.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.