It is that time of year in college football. Pack-your-bags time.
At Alabama, the rebuild now includes four staff positions – the offensive coordinator, the offensive line coach, the receivers coach and, as of Friday, the quarterbacks coach who was expected to be the new offensive coordinator. There could be more to come. That’s in addition to the usual early-entry draft exodus and the impending transfer of America’s most valuable backup quarterback, Jalen Hurts.
At Ohio State, there is a change in head coach. And a staff makeover. Fields arrives at quarterback, but his immediate eligibility is not yet a given – and the four-star guy who was supposed to compete with him for the job is now on the transfer market himself. (Basically, the Buckeyes need the power of the Great Emancipator, Tom Mars, attorney to the transfer stars, as much as Michigan did last year.)
Speaking of Michigan: Jim Harbaugh lost two defensive staffers to rival Ohio State, but added one from Alabama at offensive coordinator. There will be a defensive rebuild on the field as well, with most of the impact players on that unit leaving.
At Oklahoma, the Sooners are trying to capture quarterback magic with a third different starter in three years, while ushering in a new defensive coordinator.
So much transition and turnover at the top of the sport’s food chain. Except for the very top. Except for Clemson.
Four of the five teams in Yahoo Sports’ too-early 2019 Top 25 are undergoing major transitions. One is not.
The Tigers won the national title in dominant fashion Monday, then sat back and watched their closest competitors for 2019 convulse with change. While that’s been going on, nothing has changed at “Little Ol’ Clemson,” as Dabo Swinney likes to put it.
Maybe that will change in the coming days and weeks – Why wouldn’t Alabama take a run at poaching a staffer or two from its chief rival? – but the rock-solid coaching and recruiting foundation at Clemson are the great keys to its success. And as of now, at least, a second national championship in three years still hasn’t cracked that foundation.
I wrote about it before the Tigers walloped Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. The same two coordinators, Tony Elliott on offense and Brent Venables on defense, have called plays in all seven Clemson playoff games since 2015. While player talent matters most when chasing championships, staff continuity is awfully important, too.
(And in case you forgot, Clemson has the player talent part on lock as well. There will be a defensive rebuilding job for Venables in ’19, but good luck stopping the offense that trucked the Crimson Tide and returns almost every key skill-position contributor.)
The Tigers’ keys to staff retention? There are several. First of all, they pay top dollar – Clemson’s 2018 assistant salary pool was a reported $6.3 million, believed to be second-most in the nation behind only LSU. Venables is the highest-paid assistant coach in the country. Elliott and co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott are each pulling down $850,000 (and could be due for off-season raises).
Second, four full-time assistants are Clemson alums, as are 12 members of the sprawling support staff listed in the program’s media guide. All things being equal, those guys are more likely to stay than go.
Third, the Dabo Factor. He is, by all accounts, a good boss with a lot of endearing human qualities. That doesn’t mean he’s a softie and every day is recess in the office, but it’s not difficult to envision a work environment that is a bit more enjoyable than that at, say, Alabama or Georgia. Clearly, very few staffers are lunging at opportunities to leave his staff.
This is what Scott told me before the Cotton Bowl: “The best advice I’ve been given is, ‘Don’t mess with happy.’ That’s the best word to describe what we’ve got going on at Clemson. Everybody’s happy.”
Happiness has led to continuity. And continuity has helped breed success.
(Worth noting: There is a difference between continuity when you’re winning big and Michigan State continuity, where on Thursday Mark Dantonio rearranged an offensive staff that has wallowed in ineptitude.)
Certainly, Saban has navigated major staff turnover in the past without losing ground. That could well continue in ’19, given the glut of talent on the roster. But a couple of the current losses will hurt.
The Friday departure of QB coach Dan Enos for Miami, when he was in line to replace coordinator Mike Locksley, was a jolt. Others in the Southeastern Conference reportedly were coming after him, and losing him to the Hurricanes is better than losing him to Georgia, but it’s still a departure Saban likely wasn’t anticipating. And receivers coach Josh Gattis, considered a rising star in the profession, got a big promotion to offensive coordinator at Michigan.
For the fourth straight season, Alabama will be working with a new offensive coordinator. And seemingly for the second time in those four seasons, the new hire will be coming from the outside.
So it will be a busy offseason of hirings and assimilation – at Alabama and elsewhere near the top of college football. And while its main competitors are scrambling to catch up and fill holes, the status quo remains strong at Clemson.
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