February 26, 2024

Alabama’s Kalen DeBoer faces play-calling dilemma after Ryan Grubb takes Seahawks offensive coordinator job


First-year Alabama coach Kalen DeBoer already faced the gargantuan undertaking of replacing college football legend Nick Saban. Now, he is facing that task without his right-hand man following the news that Ryan Grubb won’t be the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator in 2024.

With Grubb instead heading to the NFL to be the offensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, it leaves DeBoer without his longest-tenured 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 the past two seasons.

Grubb called the plays for the Huskies during their 25-3 run over the past two years, which culminated with a loss to Michigan in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. That’s the key element here. His role as offensive coordinator role wasn’t just an inflated title for the sake of increasing his pay grade, like we often see in college football.

DeBoer, a noted offensive guru himself, actually trusted Grubb with his scheme, and the results were magnificent as Washington ranked among the nation’s most prolific passing attacks each of the past two seasons. Grubb’s departure now forces DeBoer to either turn over play-calling to someone new or assume the duties himself.

There was an interesting element to the timing of Grubb’s departure from a roster management standpoint. Friday marked the end of the 30-day window for players to transfer following Saban’s retirement, meaning any Alabama players wishing 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 DeBoer goes from here

With ESPN reporting that Grubb will be taking Alabama offensive line coach Scott Huff with him to the Seahawks, the only logical alternative play-caller remaining on staff is Nick Sheridan, who was originally expected to coach Alabama’s tight ends. DeBoer’s other offensive hires — running backs coach Robert Gillespie and receivers coach JaMarcus Shepard — are not coaches he’s worked with previously and would surely need time to master DeBoer’s system before he trusts them to call plays.

Sheridan has the advantage of having worked with DeBoer at Indiana and at Washington as the Huskies’ tight ends coach for the past two seasons. He’s got Power Five coordinating experience at Indiana in 2020 and 2021 — albeit with mixed results — and had a front-row seat to what DeBoer and Grubb cooked up together the past two seasons. ESPN reported it’s likely that Sheridan and Shephard will be co-offensive coordinators. But DeBoer still must 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 truly akin to being a CEO, and calling plays requires a time commitment that could be overwhelming in light of everything else on DeBoer’s plate.

Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz finally relinquished play-calling duties for the 2023 season — his fourth on the job — and the results were great. The Tigers finished 11-2 with a Cotton Bowl victory over Ohio State as they jumped from 81st nationally in total offense to 28th with Kirby Moore as offensive coordinator.

“I wasn’t embracing my role as the head coach,” Drinkwitz said before the Cotton Bowl. “I was trying to hold on to my ego of being the play caller. And I needed to step back and say, the job as a head coach is to build this team, empower other people to do their jobs, and really build connections amongst 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 attempting to back away from play-calling duties. Originally, the Buckeyes planned on having 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 and hired UCLA head coach Chip Kelly for the role.

DeBoer could try to make a splash himself and turn to an outside hire for the offensive coordinator job. But even if he were to pull a big name, there would be no familiarity. Ohio State can get away with that as Day enters his sixth season with ample returning talent and continuity in other coaching roles. But this is a totally revamped program at Alabama with new faces in key roles across the board and a head coach who has no SEC experience.

Grubb would have provided a sense of security and comfort for DeBoer. Now, he must adjust.





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