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Robert Gillespie: Grading Alabama football’s coaching staff

Alabama RB coach Robert Gillespie giving signals during practice in 2022.
Photo comes via SEC Media Portal

Before spring practice starts for Alabama football, we dive into a new series here at Touchdown Alabama Magazine.

The staff will grade the performances of all on-field coaches, including Nick Saban, for this season. We will dissect grades for leadership, player responsiveness, and overall impact for each coach. The series will lead us into spring action for the Tide.

Robert Gillespie will now be evaluated as the running backs coach.

Robert Gillespie

-Years at Alabama: 2 years

Record at Alabama: 0-0

Previous coaching stop: North Carolina (running backs coach)

Leadership

As a former running back in the Southeastern Conference, Robert Gillespie is a marquee leader.

He played the position in the toughest conference in college football and knows how to coach it. After creating success at North Carolina, Gillespie produced his first 1,000+ yard rusher for the Crimson Tide. He mentored Brian Robinson to 1,343 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns. Gillespie also enhanced Robinson’s versatility, positioning the Tuscaloosa native to 35 receptions for 296 yards and two touchdowns. Robinson got selected in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Gillespie assisted Jahmyr Gibbs (151) and Jase McClellan (111) to have over 100 rushing attempts. Both players recorded seven touchdowns each. Gibbs and McClellan also showcased hands as receivers. Gibbs carried a team-high for receptions (44) for 444 yards and three touchdowns. McClellan caught 14 passes, including three for touchdowns. Gillespie gets the best out of his position. Gibbs, McClellan, Roydell Williams (four touchdowns), Jamarion “Jam” Miller (two touchdowns), and Trey Sanders (now at TCU) all ran hard for Gillespie. Gibbs came 75 yards short (926) of being Gillespie’s second 1,000-yard back.

Grade: A

Players Responsiveness

Running backs responded well to Gillespie in his first two seasons.

Robinson carried the load in 2021. Gillespie wanted him to be quicker, and Robinson responded with several 100-yard performances. He paced the Crimson Tide to a Southeastern Conference Championship. McClellan suffered an injury in 2021, but he was performing well before the mishap. He had four touchdowns, including three touchdown catches. Gillespie wanted Gibbs to be the swiss-army knife, McClellan to bring the power, and Williams to fulfill the tough yardage back role, and all three responded successfully. Miller even chimed in with some good runs late in games, showing Gillespie he can be trusted.

He graduates Gibbs to the National Football League, but Gillespie returns McClellan, Williams, and Miller. Alabama signed two talented freshmen, Justice Haynes and Richard Young, and both five-stars are ready for action. The running game should be better next fall.

Grade: A

Overall Impact

Alabama did not consistently run the ball like it wanted to in 2022, but Gillespie had a strong impact.

He mentored Gibbs enough to have him project as a first-round pick.

Gillespie had McClellan running with a physicality that offensive linemen love. Gibbs, McClellan, Williams, and Miller got opportunities to show what they can do. Gillespie will be able to mix and match the backs up more next fall. Each one will excel at power between the tackles, explosiveness on the perimeter, versatility as receivers, and pass protection. Tommy Rees’ offense as the coordinator should give running backs more freedom. Gillespie’s impact will grow more in the fall.

Grade: A

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Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.

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