Alabama’s Kalen DeBoer faces an interesting dilemma after Ryan Grubb takes the Seahawks offensive coordinator job
First-year Alabama coach Kalen DeBoer already faced the gargantuan undertaking of replacing college football legend Nick Saban. Now, he faces that task without his right-hand man after the newsthe Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator in 2024.
With Grubb instead heading to the NFL to become the offensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, it leaves DeBoer without his longest confidant in the coaching ranks. The two worked together for 12 seasons across four different schools, developing a comfort level and rapport that led to Washington’s prolific offensive success over the past two seasons.
Grubb called the plays for the Huskies during their 25-3 run over the past two years, which ended with a loss to Michigan in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. That’s the key element here. His offensive coordinator role wasn’t just an elevated title to increase his pay grade, as we often see in college football.
DeBoer, a noted offensive guru himself, actually trusted Grubb with his scheme, and the results were great as Washington ranked among the nation’s top passing attacks each of the last two seasons. . Grubb’s departure now forces DeBoer to either turn play-calling over to someone new or take on the responsibilities himself.
There was an interesting element to the timing of Grubb’s departure from a roster management perspective. Friday marked the end of the 30-day window to transfer players following Saban’s resignation, meaning any Alabama players looking to transfer as a result of Grubb’s decision will have to wait until the spring transfer window in April to enter the portal.
Where is DeBoer going from?
With ESPN reporting that Grubb will take Alabama offensive line coach Scott Huff with him to the Seahawks, the other most reasonable play caller left on the staff is Nick Sheridan, who was originally slated to be coaches the Alabama tight ends. DeBoer’s other offensive hires — running backs coach Robert Gillespie and receivers coach JaMarcus Shepard — have never been solo offensive coordinators before.
Sheridan has had the benefit of working with DeBoer both at Indiana and at Washington as the Huskies’ tight ends coach for the past two seasons. He has Power Five coordinating experience in Indiana in 2020 and 2021 — albeit with mixed results — and had a front-row seat to what DeBoer and Grubb cooked up together the last two seasons. ESPN reported that Sheridan and Shephard are likely to serve as offensive coordinators after Shephard served as Washington’s passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach in both last year. But DeBoer still has to decide who will call the shots on game days.
Doing it himself
DeBoer could call the plays himself, which is the route SEC peers such as Josh Heupel (Tennessee) and Billy Napier (Florida) have gone early in their tenures. But coaching at Alabama is really like being a CEO, and calling plays requires a time commitment that can be overwhelming given everything else on DeBoer’s plate.
Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz finally relinquished his playing duties for the 2023 season — his fourth on the job — and the results were impressive. The Tigers finished 11-2 with a Cotton Bowl victory over Ohio State and jumped from 81st nationally in total offense to 28th with Kirby Moore as offensive coordinator.
“I wasn’t accepting my role as a head coach,” Drinkwitz said before the Cotton Bowl. “I was trying to live up to my ego of being a play-by-play communicator. And I would have to step back and say that the job as a head coach is to build this team, empower other people to do their jobs, and really build bonds among our players from player to player, coach to player, and from our team to our university and community.”
Ohio State coach Ryan Day is another prominent example of a big-time coach trying to recover from playing duties. Originally, the Buckeyes were eyeing the well-traveled Bill O’Brien as their offensive coordinator for the 2024 season. After O’Brien accepted the Boston College head coaching position, Day quickly pivoted andfor the role.
DeBoer could try to make a splash himself and turn to outside recruiting for the offensive coordinator job. But even if he drew a big name, there would be no experience. Ohio State can get away with that as Day enters his sixth season with plenty of returning talent and continuity in other coaching positions. But this is a completely revamped program in Alabama with new faces in key wide receiver roles and a head coach with no SEC experience.
Grubb would have given DeBoer a sense of security and comfort. Now, he needs to settle.