What Tommy Rees’ hiring means for Alabama, Nick Saban and Notre Dame

On Friday, Alabama offered Tommy Rees his offensive coordinator job, and he accepted, making him the Crimson Tide’s ninth other OC since Nick Saban became head coach in 2007. Rees has spent the last three years in the same position at Notre Dame.

Rees replaces former offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, who left Alabama for the same position with the New England Patriots.

So what does this mean for Saban and the Crimson Tide and Marcus Freeman and the Fighting Irish? Our reporters break it down.

What prompted this move from Alabama?

Whether or not Bill O’Brien left on his own terms — and eventually returned to the New England Patriots — Alabama had to make an offensive move after a disappointing 2022 season. The Crimson Tide had become too one-dimensional and too dependent on outstanding quarterback play to score points. Creative playcalling among former OCs Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin was absent. Receivers failed to open and running play was inconsistent at best, especially between tackles and in close-range situations. On third and fourth downs with 2 yards or less to go, Alabama picked up a first down that rushed only 60% of the time — ranking 11th out of 14 SEC teams. It lacked the balance that Saban strives for. Such were the explosive pieces. Despite falling behind on passes 56.6% of the time, compared to Georgia’s 50.3%, Alabama ranked fourth in the conference in plays of 20 or more yards.

– Alex Scarborough

What does this mean for the future of Tide?

I’m not sure how far the pendulum is getting ready to swing back toward a more traditional offense, but I’m confident we’ll see a pro-style approach moving forward. Just look at the numbers from last season. With Rees calling plays, Notre Dame was under center 58 times last season, compared to Alabama’s 12. Notre Dame also fielded 12 staffers — two tight ends and a back — on 302 plays compared to Alabama’s 166. Eventually left Notre Dame 129 times into a pistol formation compared to Alabama’s 84. In other words, expect fewer empty sets and a more traditional running game. And with a new quarterback and a deep set of running backs — not to mention Saban’s penchant for playing ball control offenses — it makes sense that Alabama’s playbook will look more like 2012 than 2022.

– Scarborough

What does the attitude say about where Saban believes the program?

Saban could have done almost anything with this position. Schematically, it might have made sense to pursue a more modern run-pass option offense with someone like Oklahoma OC Jeff Lebby. Sarkisian had much success with the RPO in Alabama and Mike Locksley before him. According to Al.com, Saban spoke to former Mississippi State coach and RPO advocate Joe Moorhead about the job. But Saban ended up with Rees, who has a more pro-style approach compared to some of his contemporaries. This is no coincidence. Saban wants more balance and ball control. Alabama ranked 80th in possession time per game last season. Notre Dame at No. 19. If Saban is trying to fix a defense that has struggled to perform to expectations in recent years, a good first step would be to put up an offense that takes time and possession of the opposing team restricts. – Scarborough

What were his strengths and weaknesses as OC at ND? What will he bring to Alabama?

In Rees’ three seasons as Notre Dame offensive coordinator, the Irishman averaged 2.75, 2.55 and 2.53 points per drive, respectively. It’s a show of both success (all in the top 40 in FBS) and consistency, despite the loss of a longtime starting QB, a number of talented O-linemen, and some great ability position players along the way. What is Rees good at? The first thing to notice might be its adaptability. He has developed offenses based on mobility from Ian Book, Kyren Williams and a power run play and Michael Mayer’s tight end dominance. However, his best skill might be his intimate knowledge of QB location. As a player at Notre Dame, Rees was scrutinized and dealt with his share of backlash and frustration from fans and questions from the media. At Alabama, a new QB will have some very big shoes to fill, and their performance will face the same kind of scrutiny. Rees helped build Book into a star, groomed Tyler Buchner for the starting job, then transitioned to Drew Pyne and also made the most of their vastly different skill sets. His hands-on work and in-depth knowledge of the modern QB make him well suited to tackle what may be the Tide’s greatest challenge in 2023.

–David M Hale

Where does Notre Dame go from here?

Notre Dame has won six of its last seven games, including a 45-38 win over No. 19 South Carolina in the Taxslayer Gator Bowl, and with the right attitude can reassert itself on the national scene. It’s a critical decision and one that must lend itself to stability as the Irish continue to develop the program under Freeman. One thing Notre Dame won’t do is change her pro-style offensive identity, defined by her offensive line and exceptionally tight ends.

The question is whether Freeman wants to move up internally at the expense of experience, or look elsewhere for a more proven candidate. Ireland tight ends coach Gerad Parker spent two years as an offensive coordinator at West Virginia before Freeman hired him in 2022, and in 2019 Parker was Penn State’s passing coordinator. He is well-respected within the program and has a coaching history with Freeman.

Washington offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb would be a strong outside candidate, although he appears to have pledged allegiance to the Huskies after reportedly being Nick Saban’s first choice in Alabama.

The acquisition of Wake Forest transfer quarterback Sam Hartman has caused a stir, as the veteran has thrown for nearly 13,000 yards and 110 touchdowns in five seasons, but Hartman has also been plagued by turnovers at times (26 in the last two seasons). He will compete with Tyler Buchner, who won five touchdowns in the bowl. The next coordinator must judge a quarterback competition in a program that needs an elite passer to improve the entire team.

– Heather Dinich

https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/35577293/what-tommy-rees-hiring-means-alabama-nick-saban-notre-dame What Tommy Rees’ hiring means for Alabama, Nick Saban and Notre Dame

Emma Bowman

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