Alabama's coaching staff will get rearranged again this offseason following the sudden departure of recently promoted offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
Sarkisian, the exiled USC coach who moved up from an offensive analyst to offensive coordinator after Lane Kiffin took the head coaching position at Florida Atlantic, is off to the NFL to replace Kyle Shanahan on the Atlanta Falcons' staff. Sarkisian confirmed the move on his Twitter account.
Excited to be Falcons OC. Thanks Coach Quinn/ATL org. Hard to leave great rel't & opportunity with Coach Saban & Alabama. Roll tide #RiseUp— Steve Sarkisian (@CoachSark) February 7, 2017
The offensive coordinator transition was already an unusual process for the Tide in 2017, since Kiffin had initially planned to stay on the staff through the postseason only to make his exit shortly after the College Football Playoff Semifinals. Sarkisian emerged from the Alabama analyst shadows in the lead up to January's title game against Clemson, apparently refreshed and ready for this new opportunity.
Now that the Sark era for Alabama's offense is done after just one game (0-1), let's take a quick look at the options for Nick Saban and the Tide moving forward in 2017.
1. Promote from within: On Jan. 20, Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman reported that Mike Locksley, also an offensive analyst for the Tide in 2016, had been promoted to co-offensive coordinator. This is four days after Locksley was formally hired to an on-field assistant role. Locksley is a strong recruiter with a couple impressive showings as an offensive coordinator at both Illinois and Maryland. It's possible that Sarkisian's exit was evident at this point and all parties involved (Sarkisian, Alabama, Atlanta) wanted to wait until after the Super Bowl and National Signing Day to make any moves.
2. Hire from the outside: If Saban does decide to bring someone in, he has one of the best job availaties of this offseason. Alabama has the most talented roster in the country, a potential star quarterback in the making in Jalen Hurts and will be a national title contender again in 2017. Not to mention, the job of working for Saban means less media opportunities because of his "one program, one voice" policy and more time, you know, coaching football. If you are willing to fall in line with the marching orders, life on Alabama's staff can be a breath of fresh air from the rest of the college football craziness.
Locksley might get the offensive coordinator position to himself, or he could share it with another former head coach. Which brings us to ...
3. Chip Kelly? Get ready for the Kelly rumors. Saban confirmed that Kelly visited with Alabama in Jan. 2016. Since Kelly is out of a job now, any big-time position in college football will have his name attached.
"Well, Chip Kelly is a good friend of myself and a lot of coaches on our staff, and he just happened to be in the area and he stopped by and visited with us for a little bit," Saban said last year, "and not really anything of significance relative to this game."
If you remember, Kiffin took a trip to Alabama in the offseason to confer with Saban about the Crimson Tide's offense. It was not supposed to be a job interview, but Kiffin obviously impressed Saban, who hired him shortly thereafter.
Kelly rumors are great because they create buzz in the college football world, but the timing of this particular potential opportunity seems too perfect to write off immediately (like we usually do with Chip Kelly rumors). Kelly could be interested in the job for all the same reasons we mentioned above in No. 2 -- especially a chance to work with Hurts -- but it's still unknown if Saban would entertain that kind of shift in philosophy.