Alabama Crimson Tide fans of football and basketball want to know what comes next. The situations are not identical for Nick and Avery but fans of both teams are concerned.
The environment is suddenly tough and touchy in Tuscaloosa as the Alabama Crimson Tide football and men’s basketball programs face distress. What a difference a week can make.
Seven days ago, Alabama Crimson Tide basketball fans were excited and enthusiastic after the upset of the Kentucky Wildcats. Alabama Crimson Tide football fans shared an almost unanimous opinion a new National Championship would be achieved.
A week and three losses later, the Crimson Tide nation is of another mood. Second-guessing is rampant and Nick Saban is not immune. A ‘tipping point’ is being discussed for Alabama basketball and Avery Johnson.
Though coming from a small minority, there is discernible doubt in the “always trust in Saban” mantra. Among Tide basketball fans, any suggestion to remain “buckled-up” with Avery will be met with derision.
Alabama Crimson Tide message boards are always dominated by Tide football fans. As a communication tool, message boards are more suited to rage than reason. That does not mean Alabama football fans are not entitled to heightened concern. Alabama football did not just lose a national championship game – it lost badly.
After rebuilding the Alabama football staff a year ago, Nick Saban must rebuild it again. Most, but apparently not all, of the rebuilding, is by Saban’s choosing. One change was not expected. There are strong indications the exit of Dan Enos was not part of Nick’s plan. Enos rumors are rampant. One is Enos emptied his office of all personal belongings before anyone, including Saban, knew he was leaving. Another rumor, stunning if true, is Enos and Jalen Hurts did not have a strong relationship.
What is now known is Nick Saban never became sold on elevating Enos to the OC role. At most, it was going to be a co-OC role, or maybe just continuing as a QB coach. Saban’s preference to have co-OCs may have caused Chip Long to pass on an opportunity to move from Notre Dame to the Crimson Tide.
Despite no official word out of Tuscaloosa, it has been widely reported Saban has re-hired Steve Sarkisian. It is not known whether Sarkisian will be a single OC, a co-OC or a QB coach. He recently turned down an OC offer from the Arizona Cardinals, so joining the Tide as just the QB coach seems unlikely. A Sarkisian hire will not be universally praised by Tide fans. Worse is new doubt about an inability of Alabama football to establish continuity with assistant coaches.
Saban’s staff rebuild plan will not be known until it is complete. And it may not be complete for several days, possibly even a few weeks. Whatever is the final result of the 2019 Alabama Football staff, the program is nowhere near a tipping point. The Alabama Crimson Tide will be a championship contender again in 2019.
The same cannot be said about Alabama basketball. Knocking off Kentucky was hoped to be a turning point. Disappointing losses to Northeastern and UCF and an inexcusable loss to Georgia State were nearly erased by the upset of a top team.
What followed for Alabama basketball was a road loss to LSU and another, even more, inexcusable home loss to TAMU. The Aggies are not a good team. The second half collapse Saturday afternoon should have never happened.
As the Tide’s lead evaporated, Avery Johnson’s response to an inability to stop the Aggies down low, was more of the same. The Tide could not stop Josh Nebo. Adjustments could have been made at halftime after Nebo made 4-of-5 shots. No adjustments were made and Nebo was 6-of-7 in the second half. Nebo does not start for the Aggies and his scoring average going into Saturday was less than eight points per game. He scored six, four and two points in his previous three games against Texas Southern, Arkansas and Kentucky. On Saturday Donta Hall could not stop Nebo and Avery gave Donta no help, not even a switch to a lane-clogging zone.
Perhaps even worse, Alabama basketball was again inept in-bounding the basketball. In-bounds plays have long been seen as a measurement of coaching ability. A coach must have designed and frequently practiced in-bounds plays. Saturday, the Tide looked clueless at one of the most important points of the game.
It does not get easier for Alabama basketball. Four of the next six games are on the road, including at Tennessee and at Auburn. The two home games are tough – an on-fire Ole Miss team and Mississippi State. The Tide will be an underdog in all six games. A so-so 10-5 record could turn into a 10-11 record by the second night in February. There is a possible tipping point in the run of six games. A point when any hope of an NCAA berth is absurd. A point when Avery loses his team. A point when Greg Byrne might face a hard choice. Maybe, but only maybe, it will not come to that.
Second-guessing Nick and a possible tipping point for Avery. What a difference a week can make.