No snark here — I honestly thought Nick Saban was smarter than this.
Even before Nick Saban promoted Tosh Lupoi to defensive coordinator, there were internal questions within the Alabama program about whether he’d be up for the job.
Lupoi, who played defensive line at Cal, had zero experience working with the defensive secondary, a critical component of Saban’s defense. Lupoi was known as a tireless worker and talented position coach during his three years as Alabama’s outside linebackers coach but there were concerns about whether he’d be up to the task in areas like situational play-calling and recognizing what an opponent is doing in-game and being able to adjust on the fly, which had been a big strength of previous Tide defensive coordinators Kirby Smart and Jeremy Pruitt.
However, Lupoi was the staff’s best recruiter — he’s a big reason stars Tua Tagovailoa, Najee Harris and others picked Alabama — and he was going to have interest from other programs. If Saban didn’t promote Lupoi to defensive coordinator, he was likely to lose him. And after overhauling his staff to get more aggressive on the recruiting trail following the 2017 title, Saban didn’t think he could afford to let Lupoi go.
Well, he gone now. And it sounds like Saban’s okay with that.
It wasn’t long after Alabama’s disastrous national championship game loss to Clemson that word began spreading Lupoi was unlikely to return to Alabama next season as part of a massive staff shakeup. But the inevitable breakup didn’t happen because of one bad defensive performance on a national scale. In fact, sources had indicated to AL.com for a while that Lupoi was likely to leave for another job after the season.
After some early struggles during the season, Saban stripped Lupoi of defensive play-calling responsibilities and handed them over to co-defensive coordinator Pete Golding, according to sources. Saban had poached Golding from UT-San Antonio in the offseason in part to alleviate concerns about Lupoi’s inexperience with the secondary and as a play-caller. Still, word is Lupoi seemed overwhelmed during practices and didn’t totally grasp situational play-calling. While he was still heavily involved in the defensive game-planning, there was no question Golding taking over play-calling represented a demotion of sorts for Lupoi barely into the start of his defensive coordinator stint.
Valuing recruiting chops over the complete absence of coaching chops? Call that one of those classic blunders. ‘Bama was so talented this season that Lupoi’s coaching flaws never caught up with it until the national title game.
Basically, it’s the opposite of Charlie Weis’ decided schematic advantage.