NCAA Football: Alabama Press Conference-Head Coach Kalen DeBoer Introduction

There was no perfect way for Alabama to move on after Nick Saban's retirement; replacing the greatest college football coach of all time comes with a multitude of challenges. But after a several weeks of work that included having to retool the group amid NFL exits, first-year Crimson Tide coach Kalen DeBoer appears to have settled on his assistant coaches for the 2024 season. 

The hiring process was difficult. DeBoer had to decide how much Washington he was going to bring from a staff that had been together across multiple stops -- for some, all the way back to his NAIA days at Sioux Falls -- with the existing Alabama influence of staff members who were interested in helping lead the program into its post-Saban era. Those tough decisions, of course, are happening with the background of a wide-open transfer portal for Crimson Tide players who had the opportunity to leave without penalty due to the NCAA rules regarding movement in wake of a coaching change.

Just when it seemed DeBoer had finalized the staff, another wrinkle was thrown in with the Seattle Seahawks hiring away offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb and offensive line coach Scott Huff just days after National Signing Day. Grubb was one of those coaches who had been with DeBoer all the way back to his time at Sioux Falls, and over the last two seasons at Washington he had risen to become one of the most respected offensive minds in the modern game. Huff was a big loss, too, as he was part of Chris Petersen's staff at Boise State and across two different stints at Washington. He helped lead dominant offensive lines, including the group that won the Joe Moore Award in 2023. 

So, in mid-February, DeBoer was tasked with going back through the hiring process to finalize his staff before the start of spring practice. The decision to reshuffle responsibilities, as you'll see below, allows for some continuity for the relationships that have been established in recent weeks. But it's also going to increase scrutiny on those offensive coaches if the Tide are not able to meet expectations when they have the ball. 

So let's take a look at DeBoer's inaugural staff as he gets set to take on the job of replacing the all-time great Saban in Tuscaloosa. 

Alabama coaching staff hires

Nick Sheridan -- Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks: A former Michigan quarterback, Sheridan first linked up with DeBoer at Indiana and eventually took over as Hoosiers offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach when Fresno State hired DeBoer as its head coach. Sheridan was tight ends coach the last two seasons at Washington and was initially hired for that same role with the Crimson Tide until Ryan Grubb's exit to the NFL. Now, Sheridan has been elevated to OC and quarterbacks coach, the same role he had when Michael Penix Jr. led the Big Ten in passing yards per game and tight end Ty Fryfogle was named the Big Ten Receiver of the Year. 

JaMarcus Shephard -- Assistant head coach, co-OC, wide receivers: Like Sheridan, Shephard was always part of the initial plan for the offensive coaching staff as DeBoer largely kept his Washington brain trust intact. Shephard's work with the Huskies was highlighted by one of the best wide receiver rooms in the country with two players recording more than 1,000 yards receiving and Rome Odunze earning All-American honors. DeBoer's decision to bring Shephard to Seattle came after an impressive run of coaching wide receivers at Purdue, a group that included electric playmakers such as Rondale Moore and David Bell. 

Robert Gillespie -- Assistant head coach, running backs: One of two coaches from Nick Saban's 2023 Alabama staff that are helping DeBeor lead the transition, Gillespie will play a key role as one of the regional translators for this group. Gillespie has been at Alabama since 2021, and the former Florida Gator also spent time coaching at South Carolina, Tennessee and North Carolina before joining Saban in Tuscaloosa. DeBoer cited Gillespie's work as a recruiter as well as his relationship with the current roster as reasons why his inclusion "was going to be important to our success." 

Bryan Ellis -- Tight ends: The first of a couple hires we're discussing that have not been officially announced by Alabama, Ellis' hire as tight ends coach has been reported by 247Sports' Matt Zenitz and others, and his appointment is expected to be confirmed prior to the start of spring practice. Ellis arrives after serving as offensive coordinator at Georgia Southern under Clay Helton with previous experience at USC and Western Kentucky. He is taking over the role left vacant after DeBoer elevated Sheridan to offensive coordinator.  

Chris Kapilovic -- Offensive line: With Scott Huff off to the Seahawks, DeBoer needed to solidify the trenches for his offense and has reportedly tapped longtime offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic for the job. Kapilovic had just agreed to join Baylor's staff after four seasons at Michigan State, but his track record includes coaching offensive lines at the FBS level since 2008 with a five-year run as North Carolina's offensive coordinator under Larry Fedora. 

Kane Wommack -- Defensive coordinator/ linebackers: Wommack had a winning record in three years as South Alabama coach (22-17), including a 10-win seasons in 2022 and the program's first bowl win in 2023. So, when it was announced that he would be stepping down to join DeBoer as an assistant coach at Alabama, the news was met with some strong reactions. Most important to Alabama, of course, is that this is a strong hire for the program. Wommack's teams at South Alabama were well-coached, and before that the success of his Indiana defenses led to him being named a finalist for the Broyles Award in 2020. It was at Indiana where he was coaching alongside DeBoer, and those personal ties provide important context as to why Wommack was motivated to go from head coach to assistant and take up the charge of leading Alabama's defense into the future. 

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Old Dominion at South Alabama
Kane Wommack abruptly left his post as South Alabama coach to join the Alabama staff.  Getty Images

Freddie Roach -- Associate head coach/defensive line: Of all the hires that DeBoer made for his first Alabama staff, retaining Roach may end up being one of the most important. Roach played for Alabama and spent most of his coaching career with the Crimson Tide under Saban, working in roles ranging from strength and conditioning assistant (2008-10) to director of player personnel. He has the understanding of what it takes for Alabama football to succeed at the highest levels, and as the outside world wonders whether the program standard can sustain a coaching change, it will be the work of Roach and others inside the program to avoid a drop-off in results.     

Maurice Lingquist -- Co-defensive coordinator: Another piece of the story with sitting FBS head coaches resigning to go be assistants elsewhere, Lingquist left a Buffalo job he took over in the wake of Lance Leipold's move to Kansas. Prior to that, the Dallas native and Baylor alum had spent one season as the Cowboys' defensive backs coach in the NFL and also two years as Texas A&M's cornerbacks coach. Buffalo popped with a 7-6 record in 2022, but his overall record in three seasons was 14-23. 

Colin Hitschler -- Co-defensive coordinator: Much of Hitschler's resume comes from his rise on Luke Fickell's staff at Cincinnati, where was a quality control assistant in 2018 and eventually worked his way up to being co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach for the Bearcats. He made the move from Cincinnati to Wisconsin with Fickell, but with this transition from Madison to Tuscaloosa, we see Hitschler reuniting with former colleague Kane Wommack; from 2014-17, Hitschler was working his way up on South Alabama's defensive staff while Wommack was the defensive coordinator for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. 

Christian Robinson -- Linebackers: It was previously reported that William Inge, the co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for DeBoer at Washington, was going to be joining the Alabama staff. But, just last week, 247Sports reported that Inge was going to be joining the Tennessee staff as the Volunteers' new linebackers coach. His replacement, according to 247Sports, will be Robinson, who arrives from Baylor. While Robinson is coming from the Big 12, he adds crucial SEC experience to this staff as a former Georgia linebacker who has worked at Auburn and Florida.  

Jay Nunez -- Special teams: The arrival of Nunez was reported early in the hiring process before it was clear what his role would be on the staff. Though Alabama has yet to finalize the entire staff with titles in their online directory, Nunez has changed his social media profile and LinkedIn to indicate he'll be coaching special teams. Nunez spent the last two seasons as a senior special teams analyst for Brent Venables at Oklahoma after a five-season run as special teams coordinator for Eastern Michigan. He was also a special teams analyst at Minnesota from 2011-15 and special teams coordinator for Southern Illinois in 2016. Though DeBoer and Nunez did not overlap at either stop, they share previous coaching experience in both being assistants at Eastern Michigan and Southern Illinois. 

Alabama coaching staff outlook

Initially, it looked like DeBoer's 10-man staff would have five former Washington assistants, two Alabama holdovers and then a couple choice defensive hires, including his old co-worker in Wommack. Things are a little bit more diverse, and though the reported additions of Ellis and Kapilovic were not the first options, there could be some advantage to diversifying the room with voices from outside of the Washington braintrust. 

The challenge for DeBoer is going to be managing a staff that's loaded with experience because many of these coaches are used to having one of the biggest voices in the room at different times in their careers. Two former head coaches are now assistants on the same side of the ball, and five different assistants have previously been coordinators at the power conference level. One of the keys to DeBoer's success has been his management style, but the Alabama job will bring more pressure and scrutiny than any other gig he's had prior to this in college football. His style, previously, has been to trust and empower his staff while holding a high standard for them to meet. There's enough experience here to know they are prepared to be empowered, but getting all the different personalities to click will be one of the most important goals for the offseason.