The Alabama Crimson Tide lost to the Texas Longhorns this past Saturday 34-24 in Tuscaloosa. This is only the third time Alabama head coach Nick Saban has lost to a former assistant, with this time being Steve Sarkisian. It’s also only the ninth time Alabama football has been beaten at home during Saban’s tenure, with a mark now of 103-9.
After a two-loss regular season last year, which is below the standard for Crimson Tide fans and coaches alike, this early season loss doesn’t sit well with the fans. Finger pointing is at a high right now as folks are blaming different coaches and players. So who is to blame? Or maybe is Texas just a really good team this year?
All of these are questions that could take the entire 2023 season to decipher for many.
One thing is for certain, and that’s that all off-season the talk was around the quarterback position. Saban didn’t name a starter all off-season, which isn’t out of character for him after his starting quarterback from the previous season departs. What was unsettling is in years past they always had proven talent that fans were sure in to fill the void. This year was a little different. Alabama brought in a new offensive coordinator from Notre Dame, Tommy Rees.
Rees was hired less than a year ago on February 3rd, 2023. Shortly before, Alabama parted ways with previous offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, who left and now is the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots in the NFL.
Alabama Football’s 2023 Problem: Bill O’Brien
In my opinion, it’s easy to decipher that Bill O’Brien was the main problem for Alabama’s offense in the 2021 and 2022 seasons in which the team failed to win a national championship. What some may disagree on that I see as the root for 2023’s issues is, indeed, still Bill O’Brien.
Wake’s can be left by former assistants, and based on Alabama starting quarterback Jalen Milroe’s performance against the Longhorns this past weekend, it’s obvious O’Brien left a big one. On the surface sure, it may be easy to blame current offensive coordinator Tommy Rees for the quarterback play. However, Rees has been in-seat for less than a year, and therefore has coached both Milroe and Alabama third-string quarterback Ty Simpson for less than that. O’Brien had Milroe for two and Simpson for one.
With that being said, it’s mind boggling how an Alabama football starting quarterback can look that unpolished on the field, throwing two interceptions and often times leaving the pocket to scramble immediately after his first read wasn’t there. These should be freshman problems. And not third year in the Alabama system problems. And who had Milroe for those two years before entering his redshirt sophomore season this year? Not Tommy Rees, but Bill O’Brien.
Beyond Milroe’s play, the other somewhat hidden but glaring things to think about were that Rees immediately went out and pulled Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner out of the transfer portal this past season down to Tuscaloosa immediately after spring practice when the portal window opened.
Even though Saban wasn’t coming out and saying he thought they had problems at quarterback, making a move like that when you already have four scholarship quarterbacks on your roster is pretty telling.
Furthermore glaring, Simpson, who is a former five star recruit that’s entering his second full season in Tuscaloosa, took third string snaps against MTSU in Alabama’s season opener.
Dating back to when he enrolled early in 2021, O’Brien had Simpson under him to coach up for a year and a half. The fact that he hasn’t risen above third string with the accolades he came in with, as well as the performance that Milroe had against the Longhorns after being coached up under O’Brien for even longer, should tell us everything we need to know. And that again – it’s not Rees, it was O’Brien. Rees is simply trying to pick up the pieces at this point.
Below is a list of backups that took over as starters who went on to win the national championship in their first season as starting quarterback:
- Greg McElroy (2009); Jim McElwain
- A.J. McCarron (2011); Jim McElwain
- Jake Coker (2015); Lane Kiffin
- Jalen Hurts (2017); Brian Daboll
- Mac Jones (2020); Steve Sarkisian
Blake Sims and Tua Tagovailoa were the only quarterbacks in their first year starting under Saban before Bryce Young to not win a national championship as the teams starting quarterback. Both were developed into solid players who had outstanding careers with the Tide.
The only other quarterback to not win a national title in his first season during the Saban era you ask? That was Bryce Young – arguably the most coveted recruit and greatest Alabama player of all-time. His offensive coordinator was Bill O’Brien for the 2021 and 2022 seasons.