Ranking Nick Saban’s defensive coordinators during his tenure

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For a while, the defensive coordinator position on the Alabama Crimson Tide’s coaching staff was easily the most consistent, besides the head man Nick Saban himself, anyways. But that harmonious consistency has since dissipated and has become a revolving door of coaches, though not quite as tumultuous as the offensive coordinator turnover.

After 15 years in Tuscaloosa, Saban has had five different defensive coordinators put in time for him at Alabama.

From Kirby Smart to Pete Golding, how do Saban’s various defensive coordinators during his reign at Alabama rank?

5. Kevin Steele

Nov 24, 2007; Auburn, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive coach Kevin Steele talks to his players prior to the game against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Steele served as Alabama’s defensive coordinator for just one season in 2007, Saban’s first season at the Capstone. The following year, Kirby Smart would be promoted to defensive coordinator and Steele relegated to coaching inside linebackers.

2007 was a very forgettable year for Crimson Tide fans after witnessing a 21-14 upset at the hands of Louisiana-Monroe and a 7-6 win-loss record.

Steele would leave Alabama in 2009 to be the defensive coordinator at Clemson.

4. Tosh Lupoi

Alabama defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi during first half action against Georgia of the SEC Championship Game at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga., on Saturday December 1, 2018.
Lupoi1401

Tosh Lupoi served as Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator for just one year, in 2018.

Lupoi helped manufacture one of the worst defensive showings in the Saban era during the 2018 CFP National Championship against Clemson. It was the first loss by 14 or more points that Saban had allowed while at Alabama up to that point.

To add insult to injury, it was widely reported that Saban had stripped Lupoi’s play-calling duties after he struggled to figure out the defensive system and failed to put together a competent game-plan for all three levels of defense – defensive line, linebackers, and secondary.

Regardless of who was coaching during the 2018 College Football Playoff, the performance was vastly underwhelming and warranted changes.

3. Pete Golding

Alabama football-Pete Golding-De'Rickey Wright
Alabama football-Pete Golding-De'Rickey Wright

Photo Credit: Mickey Welsh / Advertiser

Earlier this year, I went on record calling for Golding’s play-calling duties to be diminished. Since it’s clear that Saban doesn’t like to fire assistants mid-season, I knew that was perhaps the only way that we could get competent play-calling defensively.

Golding has been Saban’s defensive coordinator since 2018 after taking over for Tosh Lupoi following the latter’s departure to the Cleveland Browns.

Many fans have been unhappy with Golding through these past two seasons, noting the inconsistency in the defense’s performance from week to week.

This season, it has been both good and bad, at both ends of the spectrum. After an incredible defensive performance against Lane Kiffin’s potent Ole Miss offense, they would lose to a backup quarterback at Texas A&M the following week, delivering Alabama its first and so far only loss on the year.

The season has yet to unfold in its entirety, so it’s possible that Golding and the defense can get it all together.

2. Jeremy Pruitt

Jan 8, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt against the Georgia Bulldogs in the 2018 CFP national championship college football game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremy Pruitt, who grew up in Rainsville, was a phenomenal defensive coordinator for Saban and Alabama, serving the Crimson Tide from 2016 until 2017 in this particular role.

In his first season as defensive coordinator in 2016, Pruitt coordinated a defense that led the nation in scoring defense (13.0 ppg) and rushing defense (63.9 ypg), while ranking second in total defense by two yards (261.8 ypg) and ranked ninth in pass efficiency defense (106.47). The Tide also led the nation in defensive touchdowns with 11.

Pruitt accepted a job as head coach of the Tennessee Vols after his brief second stint with the Crimson Tide.

1. Kirby Smart

Nick Saban-Kirby Smart
Nick Saban-Kirby Smart

Photo Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

This list wouldn’t be proper if Kirby Smart wasn’t No. 1. For seven years, from 2008-2015, Smart would help lead Alabama to three BCS National Championships, one CFP National Championship, three SEC crowns and six SEC Western Division titles.

His defenses were known as being punishing, well-disciplined and explosive. His units were routinely ranked in the top five in most major defensive statistics.

Now the head coach for the University of Georgia, Smart has made it clear that his defensive philosophy still holds true and remains efficient.

Contact/Follow us @RollTideWire on Twitter, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Alabama news, notes and opinion. You can also follow Layne Gerbig on Twitter @LayneG_29.

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