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Alabama Coaching Staff: Are the Kids in Good Hands?

Head coaches in college football get all the fame, blame and coin.  And while their obligations include answering to their Athletic Director bosses who manage multimillion dollar budgets, the media (such as it is), and the boosters and fans, they are perhaps most importantly responsible for teaching and leading a team of 85-100+ young men.  Throw in NCAA practice and contact constraints, and you don't have to be a figurehead to know that that task requires quality assistance and delegation-to other leaders of young men.  So, let's take a look at how Alabama does it, starting with their head coach.

Alabama has an iconic and famous head coach, and a team of assistant coaches responsible for different units.  Unlike Penn State, Alabama grants titles for both offensive and defensive coordinator positions, along with a few assistant and associate head coach titles.  Also unlike Penn State, and perhaps like 90% of the rest of Division 1 coaches, they have a single coach responsible for all three offensive line positions.

Nick Saban; 58 Head Coach


Coach Saban graduated Kent State in 1973 and coached there as a graduate and defensive assistant through '76.  He then embarked on assistant stops at a number of old and current Penn State rivals. He assisted Frank Maloney (between Ben Schwartzwalder and Dick MacPherson) at Syracuse,  Frank Cignetti, Sr. (father of the current Bama receivers coach Curt Cignetti) at West Virginia, Earle Bruce at Ohio State, Gary Tranquill at Navy, George Perles at Michigan State and Jerry Glanville at the Houston Oilers.

His first head coaching gig was at Toledo, where he went 9-2, before moving on after one year to join Bill Belichick's staff as the Defensive Coordinator on the Cleveland Browns.  After four years there, and one year before Belichick resigned, he took over for Perles as the Head Coach at Michigan State, where he went 34-24-1, including 2-3 against Penn State and three bowl losses.

From there, his fame really jumped off, as he headed down to SEC speed country to lead LSU.  After winning a national championship, he unsuccessfully tried the NFL again, but returned after two years to take on his current position with Alabama.  And we all know how well he's done there so far.

PSU Forecast

Saban has a coaching reputation for toughness and discipline.  He loves the 3-4 defense, punishing trench play and a bruising running game.  While not a big gambit type of game-planner, he knows when his quarterback will have to make plays to win a game, and gets him prepared to do that.  It sounds like he was properly alerted to our young quarterback's abilities, but while we don't expect a barrage of risky attack schemes, we won't be surprised to see Alabama try to rattle him.  On offense, we should expect lots of status quo running game with occasional down-field air attempts, if we find that our defense is getting a little stuffy on their offensive line and running backs.  But mostly, we should expect his gameplan to include trying to out-tough us with their considerable current strengths.

Jim McElwain; 48; Offensive Coordinator / Quarterbacks


McElwain started coaching in 1987 at Eastern Washington, and his career saw stops at Montana State, Louisville, Michigan State, and the Oakland Raiders, before Saban hired him away from Fresno State in 2008.

PSU Forecast

Alabama's 2009 offense totaled more yards from scrimmage than any in Bama history (granted, in 14 games), and a lot of that was from the rushing game (12th nationally at 215 yards per game).  But Florida had a top-ten defense coming into the SEC championship game and McElwain called a conservative run game with just the right amount of important pass plays, executed perfectly by their mistake-free quarterback.  With McElroy a year longer in the system, and Julio Jones finally injury-free, it's possible we may see a few more big-play attempts, but mostly we can look forward to physicaly impacts with their bruising and talented running backs.

Burton Burns; 57; Associate Head Coach / Running Backs

Burns started his college coaching career with Tommy Bowden at Tulane, then followed him to Clemson, where he coached C.J. Spiller, before being lured away by Saban's arrival at Alabama.  He has a nice stable to work with now, whether or not the reigning Heisman winner plays, and we can expect a steady diet of their running game, unless we prove we can stop it.

Curt Cignetti; Receivers / Recruiting Coordinator

Cignetti's a WVU grad who began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Pitt.  He then moved on to Davidson, Rice, Temple and back to Pitt, before working with Philip Rivers and The Chest down at NC State. He also arrived at the same time with Saban at Alabama, where his recruiting prowess has brought a boatload of new talent to the resurrected Tide program.

Joe Pendry; Assistant Head Coach / Offensive Line

Pendry is another WVU grad, and his resume may be the most nomadic, having spent a few years at Kansas State, Pitt and Michigan State, before bouncing around the pros for 20+ years.  He returned to the college ranks when Saban came to Bama and he's coached up some talent.  Andre Smith, Antoine Caldwell and Mike Johnson all earned All-America honors under his tutelage.  Reports out of rollbamaroll, show some conern about this year's relative inexperience, but most are high on the talent pool.  This year may be the best matchup for PSU's Dline against their Oline, as we are deep, fast and healthy.  Saturday night could show us a right nice battle when they have the ball.

Bobby Williams; Tight Ends / Special Teams

Williams and Saban have worked together before at Michigan State, LSU and at the Dolphins.  Last year, he coached up Colin Peek to replace two departing tight ends, and he had a fine season.

Kirby Smart; Defensive Coordinator / Linebackers

Smart was first-team All-SEC (speed) his senior year at Georgia and he went into coaching immediately after graduating, starting as a grad assistant at his alma mater.  He them moved on to stints at Valdosta State, Florida State, LSU (working with Saban for the first time), back to Georgia, then reuniting with Saban on the Dolphins.  Now the Bama defensive coordinator, he coached one of the greater college linebackers to have never played for Linebacker U: Rolando McClain.  He seems like an intense young coach and should be easy to spot on the sidelines Saturday night.  It remains to be seen how much he and Saban will plan to blitz to rattle our poised freshman QB, but they appear to have plenty of size and speed at the linebacker position to try any number of things.

Sal Sunseri; Assistant Head Coach / Linebackers

Sunseri walked on to Pitt in 1978 and ended as a team captain and an All-American in 1981.  I wonder if he remembers his last game against Penn State?

Bo Davis; Defensive Line

Davis was an All-SEC defensive lineman in the early nineties, and began his coaching career in the strength and conditioning field.  He's coached with Saban at LSU and the Dolphins, and now heads the unit that produced Mount Cody.  While it's nice to not have to worry about Marcel Dareus (regardless how many additional games JoePa might or might not have given him), Josh Chapman and Luther Davis should still worry Penn State fans against our new 5th year senior center.

Scott Cochran; Director of Strength & Conditioning

Cochran is another LSU alum, and RBR loves him.