Brian Daboll Could Be a Bigger Gamechanger Than Kiffin for Alabama
By: Larry Burton
When Brian Daboll was hired by Nick Saban the overall collective feeling by the Bama Nation was a sigh and then a “Who?” In a totally different sense and for different reasons, it reminded me of the hire of Lane Kiffin where the collective feeling was a groan and a “Why?” And while neither man was hired with a collective chorus of cheers and euphoria, it did work out well for Kiffin and he became, well let’s pick a good word here, almost loved by the fanbase.
Will it be the same for Daboll?
The answer will be yes if he has the kind of success that Kiffin did. With lots of winning comes lots of love to spread around to everyone, even Lane Kiffin.
And will he have that kind of success?
The answer to that will soon be revealed, but from what we saw in the spring game and the stories we’re hearing coming out of Tuscaloosa, the answer may be no. He looks to be on course not to do as well, but actually do better.
And what nuggets of knowledge does one cling to to come to that conclusion?
Well let’s examine the biggies first. First of all Kiffin was very good at cranking up the offense and developing quarterbacks. God knows he had to be with a new one almost every season. But if there was a knock on Kiffin, it was that he could be a bit predictable. There were times when it was run, jet sweep, bubble screen, run some more and throwing to Amari Cooper, then the splitting between Amari and ArDarius Stewart.
What Daboll seems to be good at is spreading the ball around. It won’t be like the Amari Cooper show from a few years back when it comes to throwing. Unlike Kiffin who saved the tight end until the championship playoffs, Daboll has made it clear that he intends on not only utilizing the tight end in every game, but using the slot receiver more, a lot more, because he knows that he has the talent pool at the receiving position to create some real mismatches there as well as throwing the backs in more situations than just a screen pass.
So while that could possibly keep Calvin Ridley from having another year like his freshman year as far as raw numbers go, having such a plethora of talent around him could keep him from as many double team situations as he faced in the past.
But it’s not like the receiving corp is the only place where Daboll will spread the ball around. He has last year’s leading rusher, Damien Harris back, the sensational Bo Scarbrough back, a previous SEC Freshman of the Week Josh Jacobs who showed he can start and be a hundred yard back also and now the sensational freshman Najee Harris, who is sure to create some headlines this season himself.
The ball at running back will be spread around too. Rumors have it there are even some two back sets being practiced. Just the thought of that should send a chill up the spine of any defensive coordinator.
So the first and biggest reason that Daboll could surpass Kiffin is sheer unpredictability in play calling and the sheer numbers of folks at such an insane level to call on. That is a huge plus.
Secondly, while Kiffin was a plus as a recruiter, he was seen as someone who was not going to be at Alabama long, there to repair his reputation and move on or just in general, mainly there for his own good first and the Tide’s second.
Daboll came to Alabama as a coach without bad baggage, as someone coming in willing to not only experience big time college football, but become a part of it. While any Saban assistant is fair game for moving on and being hired as a head coach or coordinator, Daboll seems to have “bought in” to life in Tuscaloosa and being a part of the program for a while. That is another big thing. Recruits can believe that he’ll be there for more than just to recruit them and that can surely help.
Lastly, while Kiffin had good relationships with the players he coached, there was always just a bit of aloofness in how he forged those relationships. Daboll, in a relatively short time, has already gained the hearts and minds of the players by not just being likeable old Brian, but by coaching them the “why they need to do things this way” rather than just teaching “how to do things this way”. He brings them into the strategy of how and why to create mismatches and how each member of the offense plays a role in making that happen. He seems to be making the entire offense buy into his own offensive “process” of training them to be aware of situational awareness to recognize not just how create the mismatches he wants, but how to create them.
So unlike Kiffin who would call a play, see that the play he had called got the preferred mismatch and then raise his arms in a touchdown pose as soon as the ball was snapped because he could see the outcome coming. Daboll is training his offense to come to the line with a play called, but recognize a potential mismatch and go to that. Yes, we know that all offenses do that by checking off to another play. But while other teams are trained to check off because they recognize the defense is set up in a scheme to stop the play they called, Daboll’s offense will just won’t check off because the defense is lined up to stop the play called, but to change the play just a bit to go to the player most mismatched in that defense.
Daboll has developed a close relationship to now second year quarterback Jalen Hurts and he knows that he’s not just a talented runner and a budding passer, but a very smart field general who sees much more than most quarterbacks his age. He not only feels that Hurts can grasp all this, but is working hard and in fact succeeding in making Hurts feel he can too.
Daboll has something that perhaps Kiffin didn’t have at this point in the year. Kiffin started every season with a true quarterback battle on his hands that wasn’t settled until after the season was under way. Saban has firmly said to us in the press that no matter how talented other quarterback may be, how they may dazzle us in practice, that there is no quarterback battle and Daboll, in his coaching, philosophies he’s sharing and the day to day work tells the team in no uncertain terms that Hurts is the man and the others are fighting for the backup role.
That Daboll can start a season without quarterback controversy is the last big edge over what Kiffin had to deal with and while most fans won’t appreciate that as being as big a deal as it is, it is in fact huge.
But as we said in the beginning, only time and games will tell if Daboll is an improvement over Kiffin, but the groundwork is certainly laid for him to do so and we at this publication will enjoy seeing it play out as much as the fan base will.
Larry has been published in almost every media outlet for college sports and now primarily writes here for Touchdown Alabama. Follow Larry on Twitter for inside thoughts and game time comments at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter