The message from Alabama head coach Nick Saban was clear at Day 3 of SEC Media Days: after seven national championship appearances and five national titles over his 12 seasons, the Crimson Tide deviated from its core identity at the end of last season.
“I think the most important thing for us in this offseason and going into this season is re-establish the standard that we’d like to play to,” Saban said.
With a loss of that kind and the consistent revolving door of assistant coaches, some minor tweaks are inevitable.
One of the primary changes is the return of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who called the plays for Alabama in its 2016 national championship loss to Clemson. Sarkisian is back with the Crimson Tide after spending two seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons.
“You know, we don’t change systems at Alabama,” Saban said. “So we change the system to effectively take advantage of the players that we have in our program. So that’s what we want to do. Obviously, we’ll do some different things and some new things relative to the new coaches that we have, but we also maintain the same system that we’ve had in the past.”
Under Sarkisian, the Falcons were efficient at moving the ball as the team ranked top-10 in the NFL in total yards, first downs and drives ending in an offensive score, finishing both seasons over 40%. In 2018, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan ranked ninth among starters in the NFL with a 62.3% completion rate in the red zone.
Sarkisian came highly recommended from Falcons receivers and former Alabama stars Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.
“Sark is a great guy,” junior Henry Ruggs III said. “We kind of found out ourselves and we can build a relationship with him whenever we need him, or whenever we have questions about something we can go into his office and talk and call him up and he’s good about that.”
Sarkisian’s specialty may be improving the quarterback, as Ryan amassed over 4,900 passing yards and 35 touchdowns for the second time in his career in 2018.
“Steve Sarkisian has lots of experience as a coordinator, college and NFL,” Saban said. “He’s also got plenty of experience in developing very good quarterbacks, which I think is really, really important in college football and has done a really good job in transition.”
Sarkisian also doubles as Alabama’s quarterbacks coach. Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa told reporters during the spring that having the offensive coordinator coach the quarterbacks helps the offense because they are more accessible to each other and can more easily offer feedback.
Tagovailoa added that he expects Sarkisian to help them develop their ability to quickly process the entire field, a more pro-style approach to quarterbacking. As Tagovailoa begins working with his third offensive coordinator in three seasons, the NFL knowledge has already begun to sink in.
“The terminology is definitely different, getting to understand what we gotta do, where to line up, how we line up,” Tagovailoa said. “How we speak in the quarterback room is a little different as well. I said this before – a lot of the coaches that we’ve had prior to Coach Sark, they all have different things on how they speak with their terminology in football to how they call plays. So it’s just something you gotta adjust to and you just gotta go with it.”