Alabama announced on January 16th that athletic director Bill Battle was stepping down and was being replaced with Greg Byrne formerly the AD at Arizona State, Miss State, and Kentucky. When Battle took over in the wake of Mal Moore’s death he made it clear this was a short term gig. Battle like Moore fought health problems as he approached the end of his four year contract Alabama became concerned that the better candidates would get away by this summer when the contract expired. To that end a secret search has been ongoing since late last year. Byrne inexplicably turned down the Florida Gators for the same position late last year and it emerged now that it was because he was being concidered for the Alabama job. This marks the end of the practice of hiring former football coaches to run the athletic department. The job is more akin to running a mutli million dollar business operation today and thus requires a different skill set. In an ironic twist Byrn’s father was the athletic director at Texas A&M when they infamously snatched Dennis Franchione from Alabama’s ailing program. That odd fact however does not have anything to do with the current job at hand. Byrne met with Saban for dinner at his house prior to his hiring. Saban gave them the thumbs up so here we are.
Alabama just upgraded their baseball stadium to a top of the line new facility but Alabama’s football program has to have continual investment to stay ahead of the pack and their basketball arena and gymnastic facility are utterly substandard. They really need to replace both with a modern multi-use facility. All that means money and that’s where Byrne needs to focus.
Contrary to the story lines that I’m sure we will see this fall Alabama still has a top football program. Alabama’s 2016 squad was a very good but incomplete team who suffered some key injuries along the way.
The 2017 Tide will have to find new leadership on defense and try to regain top form on offense and special teams that was lost along the way in 2016. They open with the highest ranked apponent Alabama has opened with under Saban when they meet Florida State in Atlanta. A loss would not kill their season but of course a win would be better. One thing is for sure, that game will be the first for a number of defensive players and Alabama better not go into that game with a plodding game plan if they expect to win.
On the coaching front OL Coach Mario Cristobal moved on to be the OC at Oregon so he could get closer to another head job. Trussville native Brent Key will likely take over the entire OL at this point. The tight ends will likely go to someone else. Alabama replaced Cristobal’s spot with Mike Loxley. Loxley was the former OC at Maryland and the former Head coach at New Mexico. He was an analyst last season for the Tide and he had multiple offers for on field jobs including some OC offers. Alabama really wanted to find a way to keep him on staff so this opening was quickly closed for that purpose. He’s known as an outstanding recruiter as was Cristobal.
Alabama welcomed 12 players to the program for this semester, all will participate in Spring drills.
QB Tua Tagovailoa – Alabama will have only two scholarship quarterbacks this spring so Tua will get a baptisim by fire.
RB Najee Harris – is the nations #1 recruit at any position. He is having a clean up scope on his knee as we speak so I don’t know how much he will do this spring.
WR Tyrell Shavers, WR Jerry Jeudy, OL Alex Leatherwood and OL Elliot Baker will all battle for open spots on the starting roster. Freshman Leatherwood has caused some early buzz with his appearance. He apparently looks the part of a starter. We will see how that goes when the helmets go on.
On Defense: CB Kyriq McDonald, LB Dylan Moses and DE Isaiah Buggs are all playing positions with open spots. Buggs has a good shot at winning a spot due to extreme depth issues on the line.
Additionally one Athlete Chardarius Townsend who could be WR or DB and long Snapper Thomas Fletcher.
The NCAA added an additional on field coaching posistion this year so Saban actually has one more spot to fill. There has been much debate on where coaches will use this. Some have suggested that a dedicated special teams coach is needed while others suggest a QB coach. With Sark handling the QB I would definately go special teams. Alabama’s return game netted them nothing after Eddie Jacksons injury. Not only that but we lost our best defensive back. An injury that was key in Alabama eventually losing in the title game. Alabama needs to get younger non starter atheletes to fill these rolls. I know they always “try” to do that but I believe a coach who does nothing BUT special teams is needed. It’s possible Saban will pull coach Bobby Williams back off the desk job after relegating him to the back office last season. Williams has been in charge of special teams in the past but it was usually in conjunction with Tight Ends.