Mario Cristobal, Lane Kiffin, Kevin Steele, Bobby Williams and, of course, Nick Saban.
All of them are football coaches for the University of Alabama, but they also have something else in common that will have a direct impact on the Crimson Tide this season.
They’ve all been head coaches at the Bowl Subdivision level, and that’s not a coincidence.
“I think it kind of goes both ways,” said Saban, who has been the head coach at Toledo (1990), Michigan State (1995-99), LSU (2000-04), and Alabama (2007-present) in addition to the NFL’s Miami Dolphins (2005-06). “I think you learn a little from them, I think they learn a little from you. I think you can make subtle changes in what you do to make it more effective because of the input you get from your staff.
“The more experience that your staff has, obviously I think the better they understand the big picture and have the kind of foresight that you need to have that you know when you make changes, what the cause and effect of those changes are going to be.”
With director of player personnel Kevin Steele getting back in to coaching and sliding over to again handle the Crimson Tide’s interior linebackers, half of the staff has head coaching experience. He had that role at Baylor (1999-2002), while Cristobal led Florida International (2007-12), Williams replaced Saban at Michigan State (1999-2002), and Kiffin has guided three different teams since 2007 (Tennessee 2009, Southern California 2010-13 and Oakland Raiders 2007-08).
One would think that’s a record, but neither the National Collegiate Athletic Association nor the National Football League could confirm. Additional inquiries with the pro football and college football hall of fames, football historians, and the Southeastern Conference found no one who could recall a similar situation.
“I’ve never seen that before,” said Grant Teaff, who has served as the Executive Director of the American Football Coaches Association since February 1994. “Maybe it’s happened, but not to my knowledge.”
It certainly has the attention of the college football world, though.
Usually things work the other way around with most assistant coaches trying to work their way up to becoming head coaches, and when they get there don’t necessarily want to be looking over their shoulder. There’s also what Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com pointed out, that “some head coaches probably wouldn’t want guys who have been used to running their own show.”
That obviously hasn’t been the case for Saban at Alabama. Going back to his initial Alabama coaching staff in 2007 it included Steele and Williams, Joe Pendry, who had been a head coach at the professional level in the United States Football League, and Curt Cignetti, who has since become the head coach at Division II Indiana University (Penn.).
“New energy, new enthusiasm, new ideas to do some things offensively that would enhance our chances of being successful,” Saban said about Kiffin, who was hired as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. “I’m really excited to have the opportunity to work with him.”
He also added about the 39-year-old who used to coach one of Alabama’s biggest rivals: “I was a head coach once and went back and worked as an assistant, and that’s a difficult transition for anybody. I think Lane has certainly handled that very, very well.
Kiffin and Steele were two of the Crimson Tide’s three offseason coaching moves, the other being defensive line coach Bo Davis. He too was on the 2007 staff and like Steele, wide receivers coach Billy Napier and linebackers coach Lance Thompson, left Alabama only to eventually return to the Capstone.
“What struck me is that it would be five guys who came back to work for Saban, whom everyone loves to describe as so difficult to work for,” ESPN.com’s Ivan Maisel said. “I think it speaks to the level of success that Saban has had. You can debate whether these guys are good assistants or not. But he has their respect.”