And just like that, the revolving door spins again.
Two days after returning from the national title loss in California, two Alabama assistants are already out the door. Offensive line coach Brent Key is officially headed to his alma mater at Georgia Tech and receivers coach Josh Gattis is the new Michigan offensive coordinator.
It’s unlikely the turnover will stop there, a year after the Crimson Tide hired six new assistant coaches. Consider this: only two remain from the 2017 season in defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi and Joe Pannunzio, then tight ends coach now leading the running backs.
It also begs the question about the long-term impact this turnover has within a program.
Clemson, the new model for stability within the coaching ranks, flexed Monday night with a well-executed scheme. Their co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott along with defensive coordinator Brent Venables have been with Dabo Swinney for all four of the Alabama-Clemson playoff games.
Alabama’s offense had a different coordinator all four times and three defensive coordinators in that span.
In fact, Phenix City product Justyn Ross in several interviews cited Clemson’s coaching stability as a reason for picking the Tigers over the Tide in February. The freshman caught six passes for 153 yards and the backbreaking 74-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the 44-16 title-game Clemson handed Alabama.
The Alabama turnover could just be the cost of success.
Both defensive coordinator departures in that span took SEC head coaching jobs in Kirby Smart and Jeremy Pruitt. Lane Kiffin and Mike Locksley both left for head coaching jobs while Steve Sarkisian and Brian Daboll took NFL offensive coordinator positions.
The turmoil surrounding Kiffin’s departure before the 2017 title game loss to Clemson certainly had an effect on the 35-31 loss. How much impact Locksley’s split duty with rebuilding the Maryland program with others pondering departures had on Monday’s loss will come out in time.
What’s clear is Alabama has already lost three of its better recruiters so far this cycle.
Key is currently No. 4 in 247Sports’ ranking for assistant coaches on the recruiting trail. He is listed as the primary recruiter who brought five-star offensive tackle Evan Neal to Alabama from IMG Academy.
Five-star defensive end Antonio Alfano signed in December because of Gattis pulling him out of New Jersey. Alabama wasn’t a major contender until Gattis left Penn State a year ago. He also helped bring top defensive end Justin Eboigbe into the 2019 signing class.
Locksley was responsible for helping land players like Jaylen Waddle and Eyabi Anoma for Alabama. The class signed in December could be the most talented in recent history and the three departing coaches had a big part in that.
On the field, Locksley was credited for calling an offense that propelled Tua Tagovailoa into the Heisman race by spreading the ball to a number of weapons both running and passing.
Gattis brought a youthful energy as a 34-year old who played at Wake Forest and a few seasons in the NFL. He oversaw a young receiver corps that included four underclassmen who caught at least 40 passes. Jerry Jeudy emerged as the star in the group that still saw a fairly even distribution of responsibilities.
And all three Key offensive lines were named finalists for the Joe Moore Award for the best overall unit nationally. There were, however, a few concerns with run blocking this season and Tagovailoa took a few big shots in the backfield.
Both Key and Locksley spent three seasons in Tuscaloosa, which is about the norm for assistants in the Saban era outside of the original staff. Gattis joins the list of one-and-dones that includes recent entries like Daboll, Sarkisian and Mel Tucker.
Alabama has yet to name Locksley’s successor publicly but AL.com on Dec. 11 reported the school is expected to promote quarterbacks coach Dan Enos to the position. Considering his experience in that position and the success that positional group experienced last season would make for a logical transition.
It would minimize impact in an offense that’s already losing three coaches but this cycle is just cranking up in the long shadow of a historic loss Monday night.