The Process. It’s become as synonymous with Nick Saban as crystal footballs are. When most people think of or talk about “the Process”, they are typically referring to the process Saban uses to turn young men into NFL ready football beasts. Or, they may associate “the Process” with the building of the actual football program itself – turning a 6-7 team into a perennial national championship contender.
I believe that “the Process” encompasses the building of players as well as the building of the entire program but I would also submit to you that there’s one other aspect of “the Process” which is rarely talked about – the building of coaches. Kids flock to the Bama football program because Nick has shown an incredible ability to put his kids into the professional ranks. Over the last four years, Alabama has had 11 first round draft picks and 24 players selected in the NFL draft overall so it’s no wonder there are a ton of kids who want to be a part of that kind of success. Similarly, coach Saban has seen his Alabama assistant coaches and analysts move on to bigger and better career opportunities so it’s no wonder that coaches desperately want to come to Alabama to put “working with Nick Saban” on their resumes. The resulting “process” is that top caliber athletes enter the program to work with the best and the brightest coaches in the game, producing the wrecking ball known as Alabama football.
As Kevin Scarbinsky pointed out in one of his columns, Jeremy Pruitt’s departure from the Bama staff will make the 11th assistant coach to leave Saban’s staff in the six years he’s been at the helm at Alabama. The only coaches on the current staff who have been at Alabama the entire time that Saban has are Burton Burns and Kirby Smart. That’s it. Yet, somehow Saban’s coaches have continued to recruit and coach at the highest levels possible without suffering any degradation in success. Each time an assistant coach has moved on, Saban has seemingly been able to replace him with an even better and more accomplished coach because coaches are flocking to the Capstone to learn under the best and brightest mind in college football.
If I’m an assistant coach, then I’m looking at Jeremy Pruitt’s astounding ascent from being the defensive coordinator at Hoover high school (he was the DC during MTV’s broadcast of “Two a Days”) to becoming Florida State’s defensive coordinator. What an amazing rise to prominence coach Pruitt has had. You have to know that any coach worth his salt would want to work on a Nick Saban staff simply because you can see that Saban’s coaches are quickly able to land big time jobs. I mean Pruitt was just promoted from being the Alabama secondary coach to FSU’s defensive coordinator – Pruitt hasn’t even coordinated a defense since Ross Wilson was quarterbacking Hoover! That’s the kind of clout that you have when you’ve coached for Nick Saban. But don’t take my word for it, take a look at this list of promotions and tell me if this would appeal to you if you were an assistant coach looking to move up the ladder:
- Sal Sunseri – Became the defensive coordinator for Tennessee after serving as Saban’s LB coach. Sal had never coordinated a defense before but still got the job based on his experience with Nick.
- Derek Dooley – Became the head coach at La Tech after being a special teams coordinator for Nick Saban’s LSU team.
- Curt Cignetti – He was the Bama WR coach before he became the head coach at DII Indiana University of Pennsylvania. They just went 12-2 and finished #7 in the country.
- Jimbo Fisher – Became the coach in waiting at FSU after serving as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU.
- Derrick Ansley – He was Alabama’s defensive GA for the last two seasons and accepted a full-time assistant coach position coaching the cornerbacks at Tennessee.
- Billy Napier – He was a former offensive coordinator at Clemson before he came to Alabama to serve as one of three offensive analysts last season. Napier left Jim McElwain to become the QB coach at Colorado State.
This list doesn’t even include Kirby Smart’s certain ascension to a head coaching position in the near future or Will Muschamp’s eventual hiring at Florida. It’s obvious that if you spend time on a Nick Saban coaching staff then doors will certainly open up for you. As it stands right now, there are dozens of high-profile coaches who are sending their resumes in to become the next defensive back coach at Alabama.
Birds of a Feather
It says something when top-notch head coaches and all Americans send their sons to work for Nick Saban. Chris Carter recognized what the structure and the discipline could do for his son Duron and he sent him to Alabama to get straightened out. Former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio had his son spurn multiple Division I scholarships (Oregon State and Oklahoma State just to name two) to instead accept a walk-on offer from Alabama. It’s simply amazing to me that a kid would ignore scholarship offers just to get tutored by Nick Saban and his staff. That inspired me to research and list out all of the former head coaches or NFL stars who have come to Alabama or send their sons to Alabama to be affiliated with Saban’s program. The list is staggering:
- Former NFL head coach and Virginia head coach Al Groh sent his son, Mike, to work for Nick Saban as a Graduate Assistant. Mike Groh was quickly promoted from a G.A. position to the Tide’s wide receivers coach. By the way, before Mike Groh came to Alabama to be a lowly grad assistant he was the offensive coordinator for the Virginia Cavaliers and instead of looking to land another coordinator job he instead opted to become a GA for Nick Saban. Wow.
- During a speaking engagement last year, Rex Ryan told the crowd that he would be sending his son down to walk on at Alabama so that he can learn from the best. You can’t give someone a higher compliment than to send your son to play for them.
- Former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio just sent his three-star and Elite 11 son to walk on as a QB at Alabama, spurning multiple Division I scholarship offers including Oregon State and Oklahoma State.
- Alabama All-American, Outland Trophy winner and NFL Pro Bowler Chris Samuels is a current assistant coach for the Bama offensive line after taking a GA position to start his coaching career.
- Former Alabama All-American Jeremiah Castille just sent his son, Tim, to be a GA for the Tide this year.
- Eric Schumann, a former Bama player and long time college coach (recently the defensive coordinator at UAB, Tulane and SMU), sent his son Glenn to become a GA this year.
- Kelvin Sigler, a former Tide player and former High School coach at Blount High School is an “analyst” now for the Tide.
- Former Bama OL coach and former UAB coach Neil Calloway’s son Russ is a defensive analyst this year.
- Wes Neighbors, who needs familial introduction, is a defensive analyst.
- Tom O’Brien’s (former NC State and Boston College head coach) son Tom was an Alabama defensive analyst in 2008, then served as a GA and is now an assistant coach at Elon.
Top Coaching Brings Top Talent
If you’ve absorbed the first two sections of this article, then you likely realize it’s very profitable for both players and coaches alike to be a part of the Nick Saban process. In the last four years, Alabama has had 11 first round draft picks and 24 players selected in the NFL draft overall so it obviously behooves high schoolers to commit to Alabama to eventually earn NFL paychecks. One of the reasons these players are able to become NFL draft picks is the outstanding coaching they receive while they are being “processed” at the Capstone. What other college team can boast of having a former offensive coordinator as a grad assistant and another former offensive coordinator as an offensive “analyst?”
Of course, as Alabama reels in top ranked recruiting classes year after year, the talent the Bama coaches get to work with is pretty outstanding. Put it this way, did Gus Malzahn look like a better coach with Cam Newton or without him? The coaches at Alabama get to work with some of the most talented players in the college game and that usually makes it look like the coaches are doing a phenomenal job. There’s a reason Jim McElwain is at Colorado State – he looked pretty smart handing the ball to Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson or throwing it downfield to Julio Jones. Sal Sunseri looked like a tremendous coach when he was working with Rolondo McClain, Courtney Upshaw and Donte Hightower and helped shape one of the top defenses in college football history. Anytime a coach has the opportunity to coach greatness, it’s going to be a pretty outstanding reflection on his ability to coach. So, it’s no wonder that top players want to spurn scholarships to walk-on and top coaches will take grad assistant and analyst positions. Both the players and the coaches have the opportunity to learn from and benefit from “the Process” in a way that’s stimulating to their souls…and to their careers!