Imagine pairing 2018’s Heisman Trophy favorite — Tua Tagovailoa — with a guy who coached Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, Johnny Manziel, Davis Webb, and Case Keenum in college.
Folks, I’m talking about the frightening idea of Kliff Kingsbury, recently fired as Texas Tech’s head coach, at Alabama.
Nick Saban could be in need of an offensive coordinator yet again. For the last three seasons, Bama’s had to replace Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian, and Brian Daboll at OC.
Now OC Mike Locksley could get a head coaching job. He’s in consideration for the job at Maryland, where he’s coached in two stints. He’s from the DMV area and considered one of its best recruiters.
If there’s an opening, Saban really just needs to hire Kingsbury, TBH.
Kingsbury is a top disciple of the air raid, having played under architect Mike Leach at Tech in the early 2000s. During his senior season at Tech in 2002, he threw for 5,057 yards and 45 touchdowns. His coaching career continued under Dana Holgerson and Kevin Sumlin at Houston and later Texas A&M.
At UH, he coached guys like Keenum before following Sumlin to Texas A&M, where he was the offensive coordinator for Johnny Manziel’s Aggies in 2012.
Saban probably remembers that team pretty well. This was the game that introduced the narrative that spread teams were Saban’s kryptonite — which Saban soon countered by hiring modern OCs to build wide-open attacks.
Well, there’s not much more wide open than the air raid.
Kingsbury’s time at Texas Tech ended because the Red Raiders always struggled on defense. I think Saban can handle that side of the ball just fine.
Kingsbury’s also coached a bunch of other QBs who are part of the NFL’s spread revolution.
The Mayfield stint obviously didn’t last long, as Mayfield transferred to OU after some apparent bad blood between he and the coach. But during Mahomes’ last season in Lubbock in 2016, the Red Raiders ranked fourth in offensive S&P+. That same year, both guys broke and set records when they played each other. Both QBs went on to be drafted in the first round.
Webb threw for 5,557 yards and 46 touchdowns at Texas Tech before transferring to Cal, a team with a similar offense for his final 2016 season, because of Mahomes. And Broncos QB Keenum’s position coach in college was Kingsbury.
As for where Kingsbury’s offenses have statistically ranked, it’s pretty damn impressive.
Just a few of the highlights in S&P+, which is adjusted for opponent and pace, meaning it’s already accounting for the fact that some of these teams played in high-scoring conferences:
- First in S&P+ offense in 2015 with Texas Tech
- First in S&P+ offense in and 2012 with Texas A&M
- Fourth in S&P+ offense with Houston in 2011
- Third in S&P+ offense with Houston in 2009
If you can build a true top-five offense at Houston, imagine what you can do at Alabama.
Even in Tech’s down 2018, the Red Raiders are 18th in offensive S&P+ despite injuries to starting QB Alan Bowman.
Just imagine for a minute what Kingsbury could do with Tagovailoa!
The thought alone is terrifying — the Tide already rank in the top five in five offensive S&P+ categories, second overall on offense, behind only an Oklahoma offense also built from the air raid. Tua has thrown for 2,865 yards and 31 touchdowns with just two interceptions on the year. He’s expected to win the Heisman Trophy in a couple weeks in New York City.
Since Saban adopted up-tempo schemes, he has made a habit of hiring the right guys who are far from his old philosophy. It started with Lane Kiffin. Kingsbury just might be the most far-out hire Saban could make, but it could end up being his most successful — even if only for a year or two.
Saban would want to run the ball a whole lot more than Leach does, to say the least, but Holgorsen at West Virginia continually shows you can adapt any offense to any style. Saban also usually prefers to promote from within, and he has former OCs Dan Enos and Butch Jones on staff. But how could you pass up on Kingsbury?
Look, I’m not downplaying Locksley’s ability as a coordinator, and he’s obviously had an incredible year with Tagovailoa in 2018. It’s just that if he does end up getting a new gig, Saban could have a chance to replace him with the country’s most sought-after OC.
Like, Kingsbury could have serious NFL interest. But if he wants to stay in college, Saban should consider it.
Be very afraid, future Bama opponents.