SportsPulse: E News All Sports college football reporters Paul Myerberg and George Schroeder give their take on who will win the Sugar Bowl.
NEW ORLEANS — Brian Daboll speaks. Sounds exit when he opens his mouth. His diction is crisp and clear, and free of any noticeable accent. More specifically, he says nouns, verbs and adjectives, stringing them together to complete sentences. These sentences form paragraphs, which then create entire thoughts and ideas.
For months and months he was seen but not heard, ruled ineligible for media interactions by Nick Saban’s gag order on assistant coaches. Coaching in wordless anonymity — or as much anonymity as a high-profile position at Alabama can entail — works for some assistants and not as much for others. Take Lane Kiffin, who at Florida Atlantic has spread his wings to become college coaching’s greatest and most prolific sharer of links and memes. The setup seems to have suited Daboll, who previously toiled in similar obscurity as Bill Belichick’s tight ends coach with the New England Patriots.
But the gag order is lifted for the postseason, when Alabama coordinators aren’t just allowed to speak but required to speak. Daboll, the Tide’s first-year offensive coordinator, entered a conference room here Thursday morning donned in a grey suit and an unbuttoned, tie-less white shirt, and he spoke. The results were as expected.
On the Crimson Tide’s loss to Auburn one month ago, the lone setback in an otherwise perfect regular season: “I’m so focused on Clemson right now.”
On the play of his offense, which has cleaned up against weaker competition but struggled when tasked with managing the top units in the Southeastern Conference: “I’m just really focused on this week. We’d be doing ourselves a disservice if we weren’t focusing solely on the task at hand with the team that we’re about to play.”
Daboll is Saban, and Saban is Belichick, and Daboll is Belichick. Having spent the past five seasons under the Lennon and McCartney of the process — defined simply as putting all your energy and focus on the task at hand — Daboll has embraced the art of avoidance. He speaks, and the basic thrust of Daboll’s comments are this: Clemson, Clemson and Clemson.
This isn’t a bad thing, unless you’re a reporter on deadline. It’s been a year since Kiffin exited Alabama for FAU one game ahead of schedule, after the Peach Bowl but before the championship game against Clemson, and since Steve Sarkisian’s gone-in-60-minutes run as Kiffin’s replacement. Amid the odd gripes and groans over the health of the Alabama offense, Daboll has provided what this program needed from the position: stability and tranquility
SportsPulse: E News All’s college football reporters Paul Myerberg and George Schroeder give their take on who will win the Rose Bowl.
“I would say we’re more organized than last year,” said Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley. “We’re just organized. A lot more.”
As was expected. At the very bare minimum, before the schemes and philosophies, Daboll was guaranteed to bring order to the Tide’s offensive room. In that sense, he was always a safe hire. Daboll understood the process when he stepped on campus, because he’d already lived it.
“Coach Belichick and Coach Saban are very similar,” Daboll said. “They’re very demanding. They’re very detailed. They expect your best effort. They expect to leave no stone unturned. You have a responsibility to the team. That’s your role. They’re the leaders that are in charge of the organization. So they’re very, very similar in how they run an organization.”
In Kiffin, for example, Saban leaned toward production over personality. While the production never wavered — only twice in Kiffin’s two seasons did the Tide score fewer than 24 points, and they won both games — the interplay between the head coach and his coordinator frayed down the homestretch of last season. This turned out to say more about Saban’s own personality and his need for stability than Kiffin’s coaching chops: FAU won the Conference USA title in his debut, so there’s no questioning the latter.
In terms of fitting into the Alabama culture, Daboll has checked the boxes.
“I think that he’s fit right in,” sophomore offensive lineman Jonah Williams said. “I think that he’s a guy that fits into our system, his personality and how he goes about doing things. He’s a guy who probably doesn’t sleep very much. He’s a guy who’s working all the time.”
Consistent production has been slightly harder to establish. It’s not that Alabama has been toothless offensively; in fact, the Tide average more yards per play and yards per game than a season ago. Yet quarterback Jalen Hurts has come under scrutiny for his perceived lack of development as a sophomore. The rotation at running back is a weekly bone of contention. Overall, Alabama averaged 5.6 yards per play against its four Power Five opponents — Florida State, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn — currently ranked in the top 20 nationally in total defense.
“Any time a new coach comes in, there’s that period where things are kind of … I wouldn’t say awkward, but we’re trying to feel our way for him, how he’s going to coach,” running back Damien Harris said. “He’s trying to feel his way out for how we’re going to respond to his coaching. It’s kind of that point in time where you have to figure things out, make things mesh. But I think that we adjusted really quickly.”
All handwringing over the team’s offensive potency aside, Alabama still finds itself living amid familiar territory, two wins in the College Football Playoff away from the program’s fifth championship of the Saban era. Comfortable in his supporting role, Daboll toes the company line: Alabama’s biggest game is the next one.
“We really don’t focus too much on things a month ago, two months ago,” he said. “Our sole focus has really been on who we’re going to play, the challenges they present, how we go about our practice and our preparation.”
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