Alabama's O'Brien appreciates Saban reaching out when others weren't

Crimson Tide photos / Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien is back for a second season after guiding last year's unit to 488.2 yards and 39.9 points per game.

On Oct. 5, 2020, Bill O'Brien was relieved of his duties as head coach and general manager of the NFL's Houston Texans.

O'Brien had guided the Texans to a 52-48 record and to four AFC South titles in a five-year stretch from 2015 to 2019. Yet an 0-4 start to his seventh season was too much to overcome, and it apparently left Alabama's current second-year offensive coordinator under Nick Saban in quite the lonely place.

"When you get fired in coaching, you find out really right away that maybe you don't have as many friends as you thought you did have," O'Brien said Sunday during a news conference. "When Coach Saban reached out to me and talked to me about this job as they were getting ready for the national championship game, as I talked with Colleen, my wife, and my family, I didn't think it was anything I could pass up.

"To have the opportunity to work for the greatest college coach of all time and arguably one of the greatest coaches in any sport - I don't think you can pass that up. To learn from him and to come into this program and see how he does things and to be an offensive coordinator again with a lot of great players wasn't anything I could pass up. It took a day for our family to realize it was our best opportunity."

O'Brien isn't the first former head coach - he was an impressive 15-9 in two seasons at Penn State following the Jerry Sandusky scandal before his time with the Texans - to get taken in by Saban. Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian were former Southern California head coaches when they came to Tuscaloosa as offensive coordinators and are now back guiding programs, Kiffin at Ole Miss and Sarkisian at Texas.

Sarkisian helped guide the Crimson Tide to their dominating 13-0 run to the 2020 national championship, with receiver DeVonta Smith winning that year's Heisman Trophy and with quarterback Mac Jones and Najee Harris finishing third and fifth in the balloting. All three were NFL first-round draft picks in April 2021, but O'Brien's first year not only yielded a Heisman for quarterback Bryce Young but an offense that ranked among the top seven nationally in points per game (39.9), yards per game (488.2) third-down conversions (52.02%) and red-zone productivity (92.65%).

"We have a lot to replace from last year, but obviously having Bryce back is a very good thing," O'Brien said. "When you lose guys like Evan Neal, Jameson Williams and John Metchie, you have to find out who can replace those guys. It's very early in camp, but we're finding out."

O'Brien credited junior running back Jahmyr Gibbs, the transfer from Georgia Tech, with being bright and talented but did not want to single him out of a collection that also includes fellow juniors Jace McClellan, Roydell Williams and Trey Sanders.

With O'Brien in his second season and Pete Golding in his fifth season as defensive coordinator, the seven combined years in those roles will be the most for Saban's Tide since 2015, when Kiffin was in his second season and Kirby Smart in his eighth and final year running the defense.

"I think continuity is important for players in their relationships that they have and for the respect and trust that they develop in the people who are trying to help them be successful," Saban said. "Coaching is teaching and teaching is the ability to inspire learning, so to have that respect and trust is beneficial for all players.

"We've had a lot of changes here in leadership positions, and we've made pretty good transitions in that regard, and to have the continuity enables you in the offseason to do a better job from a quality control standpoint in terms of systematic implementation."

Golding's defense is loaded at every level with DJ Dale, Justin Eboigbe, Byron Young up front, Will Anderson and Dallas Turner as edge rushers, Henry To'o To'o and Jaylen Moody at linebacker, and Jordan Battle and DeMarcco Hellams heading the back end.

"I like where we're at, and I think the leadership is where it needs to be," Golding said. "These guys remember the last 15 minutes of football that they played, and it's not how we wanted it to be. The bottom line was that we didn't get it done when we needed to. We couldn't stop the run when we needed to, and that's still in the gut.

"When they come to work every day, we want them to remember that feeling. It's up to us to prepare the right way so we don't feel that way again."

Making amends

Golding was made available to the media Sunday for the first time since his early February arrest on DUI charges in Tuscaloosa.

"Anytime you're in a leadership role, you've got a responsibility," Golding said. "Every day we talk to our kids about making good decisions and that there are consequences for making bad decisions. I made a very poor decision that affected a lot of other people.

"It was selfish. I was wrong, and I've got to suffer the consequences for it. I met with the team the very next day and told them I could tell them anything but I would have to show them. I've had to get the trust back from the team and move on."

Window of glory

Alabama's lengthy list of motivational speakers in the Saban era continued Friday night with a visit from swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian ever with 23 gold medals and 28 overall medals.

"He talked about actions speaking louder than words and that you have a short window to really accomplish things as an athlete, because it's not something that you can do your entire life," Saban said. "He said to make a commitment to doing things you need to do on and off the field that's going to help you be successful.

"That's also been the message from everybody else. It comes down to choices and decisions."

Tide tidbits

Saban revealed that fifth-year senior tight end Cameron Latu sustained a minor knee injury before the start of camp and will be out a couple more weeks. ... Three freshmen - receiver Aaron Anderson, offensive lineman Elijah Pritchett and defensive lineman Isaiah Hastings - also will miss camp time due to injuries. ... Saban to reporters: "Y'all have decided already what kind of team we're going to have."

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