Nick Saban hints at hiring of Bill O'Brien as Alabama's next OC
It appears as though Alabama has narrowed in on its next offensive coordinator. After reportedly making multiple trips to Tuscaloosa, Ala. this month, former Houston Texans and Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien looks set to take over the Crimson Tide's offense next season.
While O'Brien's hiring has yet to be announced, Alabama head coach Nick Saban hinted at the move during a Zoom call about the Paul Bryant Award on Wednesday.
"I think he’ll do a great job with our players here," Saban said during the call. "I’ve always tried to have the best knowledge and experience I can for our players and their development, and I certainly think he can contribute to that in a very positive way.”
O’Brien was fired by the Texans in October after leading the team to an 0-4 start. Before his dismissal, he spent six full seasons as the head coach of the organization, winning the AFC South four times. Prior to that, O’Brien spent two seasons as head coach at Penn State. He earned the Paul "Bear" Bryant Award and Maxwell Coach of the Year Award in 2012 after he rallied the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 season despite an 0-2 start and NCAA sanctions. O’Brien also spent five seasons with the New England Patriots from 2007-11 where he worked under Saban’s close friend, Bill Belichick.
O’Brien served as the Patriots offensive coordinator in 2011. He also coached quarterbacks in 2009 and 2010 after coaching running backs in 2008. The 51-year-old also has offensive coordinator experience at the college level, leading Georgia Tech’s offense from 2001-02 and Duke’s offense from 2005-06.
“I’ve known Bill O’Brien for a long, long time, all the way back when he was an assistant at Georgia Tech with George O’Leary,” Saban said during the call. “I think when he was with Bill Belichick at the New England Patriots — who I think everybody knows the relationship that we have with Bill — he was the offensive coordinator there. Went to Penn State in probably the most trying times of any great program, coming off of a lot of crazy stuff, and he did an outstanding job of sort of rebuilding that program, getting players to stay there, having a real representative positive program.
“And I think he did a really good job in Houston when he was the head coach. I think when he became the general manager maybe things didn’t go exactly like he would’ve liked, trying to have both roles. But having been a head coach in that league, I know how difficult it is to do both of those things -- probably impossible. So based on the body of work up until then, I think he’s an outstanding coach and a really good person."
If hired, O'Brien will replace Broyles Award winner Steve Sarkisian, who accepted the head coaching job at Texas earlier this month. O’Brien would take over an Alabama team that ranked in the top five in scoring (48.5 points per game), total offense (541.6 yards per game) and passing offense (358.2 ypg). However, he’ll likely be missing several key components of that group, including Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, Davey O’Brien Award winner Mac Jones and Doak Walker Award winner Najee Harris as well as the majority of an offensive line that earned the Joe Moore Award.
During O’Brien’s last full season in charge of Houston last year, the Texans ranked 13th in the NFL in total offense averaging 362 yards per game. Before the 2020 season, he handed over playcalling duties to offensive coordinator Tim Kelly after taking on the general manager role in addition to his head coaching job.
Over the past four seasons, O’Brien has coached dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson. At Alabama, the newly-named coordinator will oversee another mobile passer as former five-star recruit Bryce Young is set to take over the reins behind center. O’Brien helped Watson develop into one of the top passers in the league as the former Clemson star led the NFL with 4,823 passing yards en route to his third Pro Bowl this season. Alabama will hope he has a similar effect on Young as the Tide looks to reload its offense for another title run this season.