Doug Nussmeier's name remains linked to the University of Washington job. So, we decided to contact SBNation's Alabama site, Roll 'Bama Roll, to get their perspective on the job Nussmeier has done in his two seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide. Many thanks to Gumpin' on Saturday for taking the time to answer a few questions and offer some insights.
1. Doug Nussmeier is just about to complete his second season at Alabama. How much control does he really have with the Alabama program offensively (offensive philosophy and design, gameplanning, assessing starters and reserves, etc.)?
It’s certainly no secret that Nick Saban has a large influence over every single aspect of this Alabama football team. That seems to be the norm with coaches that come from the Belichick tree – they have their specialties, but they’re proficient in both offense and defense to the point where they’re exerting some control over both units. Despite all of that – and, of course, this is merely a guess because, as an outsider, it’s impossible to truly know – I do believe that Nussmeier has a great deal of control over all aspects of the offense. First, he’s the play caller, so obviously he impacts that game directly, in that regard. Second, even though they’re mostly subtle, there have been changes to the offense, from a philosophical standpoint, since he took over. I think Saban brought him in knowing that their offensive philosophies were relatively similar, but also with the belief that he would be able to properly take advantage of the Tide’s weapons in the passing game. And I think it’s rather obvious that he has been able to do this.
2. While Alabama has been proficient offensively, the Tide really seem to have opened things up the last two seasons. How much of that do you think is Nussmeier’s influence, and how much of it is the fact that AJ McCarron has turned out to be a really good quarterback? If it’s because of McCarron, how much credit do you give for his development to Nussmeier, if any?
There’s no question that the offense has opened up more under Nussmeier. Alabama’s bread and butter in the passing game are still shallow and intermediate routes, designed to attack the linebackers in space, but their use of vertical passing concepts has increased under Nussmeier. As a matter of fact, I actually wrote about this before the season. Nussmeier really seems to favor three verticals, typically with all three receivers (or two receivers and a tight end) lined up on the same side of the field. It has been tremendously effective, both due to the execution on the field and the timing of the play call. From a play calling standpoint, Nussmeier really seems to have a great sense for when a team is vulnerable on the back end, and that has proven quite valuable during his two years here.
As you made mention of, it’s certainly true that all of this is made possible because of the progress AJ McCarron has made as a quarterback. The 2011 version of McCarron would have a difficult time throwing the ball down the deep middle of the field, but the 2012 and 2013 versions have thrived in this area. He still lacks elite arm strength, but his mechanics are much improved – along with ability to go through his progressions and deliver the football on time, even to his third or fourth option. Once again, it’s nothing more than a guessing game when it comes to trying to determining how much of his progression is due to Nussmeier. Some natural progression is to be expected, and, over the summer, McCarron has a quarterback coach. But Nussmeier, as the quarterback’s coach, works very closely with the quarterbacks during the spring and throughout the season, so I certainly believe he deserves some amount of credit.
3. Nick Saban is one of the most dominant coaches in college football in this or just about any generation. Is he the “sole proprietor” type of coach that micromanages everything himself, or his he more of a “coach the coaches” type that relies heavily on his assistants to do the teaching? Does he try to mentor his assistants, even if it means that they’ll leave Alabama for promotions? In other words, how much of the “Nick Saban Way of Doing Things” do you think a coordinator like Nussmeier could’ve learned in his two seasons under Saban?
Saban certainly has had a great deal of influence over some of his former assistants. At Florida State, Jimbo Fisher has essentially modeled every single aspect of his program after what Saban did at LSU. At Michigan State, Mark Dantonio has referenced the lessons he learned from Saban on numerous occasions. More so than on the field philosophies, I think Saban’s greatest impact on his assistants is teaching them how to manage a program. Saban has his hand in everything, and he is constantly striving for improvement in every possible area. Most assistants that move on from Saban seem to understand the importance of all the little things – ranging from upgrading facilities to providing players with many non-football services. One of the things that he is best known for is his incessant lobbying of the school for more and more money for the football program, and I think it would be fair to expect the same thing from his former assistants once they move on to head coaching roles.
4. What are your impressions of Nussmeier as a recruiter? How about as a face (however minor) of the Alabama program?
I think Nussmeier has done a very good job thus far as a recruiter. He certainly isn’t the Tide’s top assistant in that area, but that’s to be expected considering he has never coached in this part of the country before and simply does not have the same connections that some of the Tide’s other assistants do. And I think that showed last year, when, according to Rivals, he was only responsible for directly recruiting two members of Alabama’s class, one of which was a quarterback from Utah. But the improvement from last year to this year has been dramatic. Up to this point he has been directly responsible for securing the commitments of a top running back (Bo Scarbrough), top wide receiver (Derek Kief), and top quarterback (David Cornwell), to go along with a few others.
Saban’s former assistants, after moving on to head coaching jobs, have almost never failed to recruit well. Even Jim McElwain has done a reasonably good job at Colorado State, and Mark Dantonio has challenged Michigan for recruits, at least to some extent. And, of course, there are guys like Jimbo Fisher and Will Muschamp who are recruiting as well as anyone in the entire country. If there’s one thing Saban does better than anyone it’s recruit, and I think this tends to rub off on his assistants.
5. Okay, play along with me on this one. Nick Saban has announced he’s retiring in two seasons, and has named Doug Nussmeier as his coach-in-waiting. Your reaction to that would be…….?
This made me laugh, only because I’m now thinking about how the general Alabama fan base would react to this. It wouldn’t be pretty, not just because Saban would be leaving but also because I don’t think Nussmeier would be most people’s first choice. And he certainly wouldn’t be my first choice either, mainly because I would want someone that has spent more time coaching in this part of the country, for recruiting purposes. But as a football coach I would have no issue with it. I think he’s a fantastic offensive coach, and, on the rare occasion that he speaks to the media (Saban doesn’t allow this during the season) he represents the University well.
6. Any other impressions or thouhts on Nussmeier either as an Alabama offensive coordinator, or his potential future as a head coach?
Sports fans are a results oriented bunch, and, despite Nick Saban’s constant preaching to look only at the process, Alabama fans are no exception. So when plays don’t work, as they often didn’t this past Saturday, everybody is really quick to blame the coaching staff. Many of the same people that were screaming about Nussmeier being too aggressive during the latter stages of last year’s Texas A&M game and the early stages of last year’s SEC Championship Game, where chastising him for being too conservative against Auburn. The phrase ‘RUN THE DANG BALL’ has a special place in the hearts of most Alabama fans, unless they do run the ball and it doesn’t work, in which case that phrase is quickly replaced by ‘I TOLD YOU THEY SHOULD’VE THROWN IT MORE’.
My point is that, with fans, offensive coordinators usually can’t win. If the play worked it tends to be about how well the players executed. If the play failed it tends to be about how that wasn’t the right play call for that situation. But that fan driven narrative is silly. The truth is that Coach Nussmeier has a sound offensive philosophy, consistently puts his players in position to succeed, and is a very good play caller. At the same time, it can’t be denied that he has taken advantage of the talent around him. If he moves on to a head coaching job somewhere else I’d be disappointed to see him go, but excited to see what he can do with a bit less at his disposal. If he indeed goes to Washington I would be excited if I were you guys. I think he’ll give your program a great chance to win year in and year out.
There you go, Dawg fans. A pretty good synopsis that reinforces a lot of the things we already know about Nussmeier. He's a very good offensive coordinator, and a good coach in general, but he just doesn't have that head coaching experience yet.
What do you guys think?