Alabama Football: Why Is Nick Saban Letting His Defensive Coaches Leave?

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJanuary 15, 2015

Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Alabama head coach Nick SabanBrynn Anderson/Associated Press

The coaching silly season has been eventful in the SEC and profitable for moving companies.

Assistant coaches have made road trips to find new homes all around the SEC, and this week was particularly big for moving companies in Tuscaloosa.

LSU hired inside linebackers coach Kevin Steele to become the new defensive coordinator of the Tigers, a role once occupied by new Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis. Prior to his time at the Capstone, Steele served as the defensive coordinator of Clemson (2009-2012) and Alabama (2007), and was Baylor's head coach from 1999-2002.

Hilary Scheinuk/Associated Press

Just one day later, outside linebackers coach Lance Thompson left his post in Tuscaloosa to coach the linebackers for head coach Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp at Auburn.

"I'm excited to have Lance Thompson join our staff. Lance is very familiar with Will having worked with him before," Malzahn said in a release. "He's an outstanding coach and an outstanding recruiter who is very familiar with our state and the Southeastern Conference. Lance will be a great addition to our staff."

Is head coach Nick Saban cleaning house?

Not really. 

Steele left for a better job at LSU, and whether Saban did or didn't give him a slight nudge to walk out the door, he still got a better gig as the head man in charge of one of the most talented defenses in the SEC at LSU.

Thompson, on the other hand, might be a different story, as Aaron Suttles of TideSports.com notes:

Aaron Suttles @AaronSuttles

I have confirmed from multiple sources that Lance Thompson was told to find a job elsewhere.

An excuse? Probably not.

It's common for Saban—and many other coaches—to fire assistants without actually firing them in order to keep their resumes looking good.

It's unlikely, though, that Saban expected Thompson—who was the third-best recruiter in the country in 2013 and was ranked fifth in 2015, per 247Sports, before the jump to Auburn skewed his ranking—to walk out the door and head 160 miles southeast to Auburn one day before the recruiting dead period ended. 

That's where Thompson and Steele's departures will make the biggest impact.

Saban is left looking to replace two on-field assistants quickly during a time where his focus really should be in the living rooms of high school prospects.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Alabama head coach Nick SabanUSA TODAY Sports

There is a quick fix available, though.

Tosh Lupoi served as an "intern" on Saban's staff last year but was a defensive line coach and defensive run game coordinator at Washington before the two mutually parted ways amidst an NCAA investigation into improper benefits. The NCAA later cleared Lupoi, according to Andrew Gribble formerly of AL.com, but he was left without an on-the-field job.

He finished fifth in the 2010 247Sports recruiter rankings when he was the defensive line coach for Cal and, according to Michael Casagrande of AL.com, worked with Thompson during practices this year at Alabama.

If Saban promotes Lupoi from within, would it be an upgrade? That remains to be seen.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Alabama head coach Nick SabanBrynn Anderson/Associated Press

It would, however, be a tweak to a defense that needs more of a tweak than a massive overhaul.

The last time we saw Alabama's defense on the field, it gave up 230 yards on the ground to Ezekiel Elliott in the Allstate Sugar Bowl national semifinal in the 42-35 loss to the Buckeyes. Part of the blame for that debacle does fall on the linebackers, who were out of position and missed tackles on the second level, which allowed Elliott and quarterback Cardale Jones to get yards in chunks.

It also forced safeties to creep down into the box to help out against the run, which played at least a small part in the inconsistencies in the pass defense over the last couple of years.

The timing isn't ideal, but the setup of Alabama's staff—particularly the off-the-field staff—limits the impact of losing on-field coaches during critical points of the year.

Alabama will be fine. It always is.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.