Tide fans meet Daboll for first time on Saturday
By Tim Gayle
TUSCALOOSA – It was “Fan Day” at Alabama on Saturday, which meant it was the annual media day for taking team pictures and giving reporters their one shot at the Crimson Tide’s coordinators.
This was the first time new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has talked with the media in Tuscaloosa and several introductory measures had to be resolved, starting with the correct pronunciation of his name.
“It’s DAY-bul, like ‘table,’ Daboll,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot of them. Several.”
He’s never spent any time in the college ranks – outside of his start as a graduate assistant at William & Mary in 1997 and for Nick Saban at Michigan State in 1998-99 – so his 17 years as an National Football League assistant is the only real gauge for whether he knows how to direct the Crimson Tide offense in 2017.
“I think that there are some differences in our game,” Saban said. “I think the biggest thing is the rule about being downfield, being able to throw RPOs, kind of play-action passes, are a little bit different because the linemen can be three and a half yards downfield. But I don’t think it’s a big issue. It’s all football. It all comes down to ability to execute, which is fundamentally how you block, how you tackle, how you run routes, what the quarterback reads to get rid of the ball, how we pass protect. Those things are pretty much the same at both levels.”
The players, obviously, don’t know whether Daboll can coordinate an offense, but his high energy approach and the fast but efficient pace of his offense (at one point in Saturday’s practice, three quarterbacks were running three separate offenses at the same time on the Bryant-Denny turf) is an exciting change of pace that has created some buzz among the offensive players.
“Everything that he wants is scripted,” tailback Damien Harris said. “It’s on paper and he does a great job of being our new offensive coordinator.”
“He’s bringing that NFL style,” receiver Calvin Ridley said. “I like him a lot. He’s a good coach and he respects all the guys. I think we’re doing really well with him.”
Just as a resume builder, Daboll has been with Bill Belichick for all five Super Bowl victories, serving as a defensive assistant in 2000-01, as receivers coach in 2002-06, as offensive assistant in 2013 and as tight ends coach the past three years.
“That (defensive assistant) is kind of where I started and what I played,” said the former Rochester safety. “I think learning the other side of the football — Coach Belichick has done that quite a bit, too as the defensive coordinator started on offense, the offensive coordinator started on defense — so understanding the game and how you’re getting defended and maybe some of the weak points and some of the coverages, the front schemes and the force alignments, that can be an advantage. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be an advantage, but it can definitely be an advantage in terms of understanding how teams are playing you and maybe how you want to attack them formationally.”
Again, from a resume perspective, learning for two years (and now) under Saban and for 11 years under Belichick should certainly make him attractive as an assistant coach.
“I’ve got a lot respect for both of them,” Daboll said. “Learned a great deal, probably, from those two men more than anybody else in this profession. Detailed, organized, demanding, expect you to do it the right way. There’s no excuses to be made. You have a job to do, you go do it.”
But that job doesn’t entail telling the media about the intricacies of Alabama’s offense. Saturday was the third practice in preparation for the season opener with Florida State and no one has any sign of whether this Crimson Tide offense will be more of a pro set attack that uses the tailbacks as receivers or a down-the-field passing machine that relies on explosive chunks of yards. There are glimpses – such as the one provided by the A-Day game in the spring – but no definitive sign of what to expect.
And no secrets revealed by the coach on Saturday.
“We have a ton of different plays that we can run offensively and what you try to do as a coach is you try to put the players in position to be successful,” he said. “Ultimately, Coach Saban is (in charge as) the head football coach, but we have a variety of different plays, both runs and passes, and we’re implementing new plays every day. You try to be aggressive as an offensive guy, you try to take away the strengths of the defense.”
Saban gave his newest assistant high praise in his development of sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts since he was hired in February.
“I think Brian’s done a really, really good job,” Saban said. “He’s a good teacher. I think the players have a lot of respect for him. He’s very enthusiastic about what he does. Systematically, we’ve carried over a lot of things that we’ve done in the past, but the new additions that we’ve made, he certainly has great teaching progressions for.
“Specifically, relative to Jalen, I think he’s a very, very good quarterback coach. I think he’s helped Jalen fundamentally. I think (Hurts) has got a better understanding and confidence, especially in the passing game, of what he needs to do and what’s expected of him. I see a lot of improvement from that standpoint.”
Daboll also served as an offensive coordinator for the Browns (2009-10), Dolphins (2011) and Chiefs (2012) as well as the quarterbacks coach for the New York Jets (2007-08), so he has plenty of experience jump-starting offenses and developing quarterbacks. He had just one year working with Hall of Famer Brett Favre, but Favre finished 2008 with his second highest passing rating in his career. He spent just one year with the Dolphins, but the offense produced a 1,000-yard rusher (Reggie Bush) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Brandon Marshall) in the same year for the first time in franchise history.
Daboll isn’t making any predictions, but said he doesn’t perceive any difference between the professional ranks and the college game.
“Coaching fundamentals is coaching fundamentals, so whether you’re coaching a 30-year-old man or an 18-year-old young man, a 19-year-old young man, you’ve still got to coach the fundamentals and make sure they do it properly,” he said. “And those don’t change based on age. Your job as a coach is to show them how to do it and really accept no excuses. Demand they do it the right way and then if they mess it up or it’s not exactly the way you want it, you’ve got to get it fixed.”