When a football coach needs to find a new job to resurrect his career, there are few places better to do so than in Tuscaloosa with the Alabama Crimson Tide. Former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones will be the latest reclamation project taken in by Nick Saban, joining his Alabama staff as an analyst. Jones begins the path back to a possible coaching job with the same off-field role that former Alabama analyst Steve Sarkisian took.
“He’s an intern, an analyst, I guess we could have several names for it,” Saban said when confirming Jones’s addition to the Tide’s staff. “He can’t coach on the field, he can work with us off the field. Today was actually the first time he was clear by the NCAA… that finally got completed today so now he’s officially going to be part of the staff here.”
When Saban called Butch Jones an intern, are we in agreement that he misspoke? Seems kind of demeaning.
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) March 21, 2018
I want to know what Butch Jones was telling people his job was before Saban called him an intern.
"I'm the Executive Vice President To the Head Coach and Special Secret Analyst of the Offensive Touchdown Plays and Player Development that's Good."
— Houston Kress (@VolRumorMill) March 21, 2018
As an analyst, Jones is restricted to working with coaches in the film room and helping prepare game plans. He is also blocked from any recruiting efforts Alabama makes with prospective student-athletes, per NCAA rules. Jones is not allowed to work directly with players in a coaching capacity, but analysts have become a valuable piece of any successful college football coaching staff. Recent history shows that Alabama has perfected the model.
It wasn’t so long ago that Lane Kiffin was looking for a rebound opportunity. After a tumultuous end to his head coaching days at USC, and disappointing stints with the Oakland Raiders and (coincidentally enough) Tennessee, Kiffin needed a spot where he could fly under the radar and get back to his roots. Kiffin was added to the Alabama coaching staff as an offensive coordinator in 2014, skipping the analyst role entirely.
However, Kiffin’s successor at USC would follow him to Alabama to fill an analyst role. Steve Sarkisian welcomed the opportunity to join the Alabama staff after a messy situation at USC led to his dismissal. It was clear he would be the next man up for offensive coordinator as Kiffin was among the hot names in the coaching rumor mill and becoming a head coach again was only a matter of time. Saban wisely stocked up on analysts to have coaches ready to be promoted to a regular coaching gig.
In the midst of a College Football Playoff run two seasons ago, Kiffin was hired to be as FAU’s new head coach, prompting Saban to make the bizarre decision to force Kiffin out between the semifinal and the national championship game. With Kiffin pushed out, Saban promoted Sarkisian to offensive coordinator. Sarkisian quickly moved on to the NFL to take the same role with the Atlanta Falcons, forcing Saban to find someone to run his offense.
Brian Daboll came from the NFL, but the analyst position was used once again to stock up reserves. Alabama hired Mike Locksley as an offensive analyst shortly after his run as Maryland’s interim head coach. This offseason, after Daboll returned to the NFL with the Buffalo Bills, Saban had his next offensive coordinator already lined up. Locksley had already been bumped up to coach wide receivers along with the title of co-offensive coordinator and received the expected in-house promotion to fill the vacancy full-time.
Just as Saban has become a recruiting master, he continues to show how important it is to maximize the space on a football staff with the best possible talent. Saban and other coaches at big-time programs with funds readily available are adding depth by utilizing the analyst positions to provide some job security for coaches in need of a rebound. Being an analyst may not be a guarantee for another coaching job, but at a program like Alabama or Ohio State or Michigan, it’s a good opportunity for any coach needing some time to regroup mentally and professionally.
These types of work environments are the best rehab locations for any coach who can benefit from laying low for a brief period of time. It is, as Saban joked, an internship in a sense. Even a veteran head coach can learn by focusing on fewer overall tasks and observing what makes coaches like Saban or Urban Meyer as successful as they are.
FYI…I know everyone is clowning Butch Jones because Saban labeled him an intern, but….Saban literally called Tosh Lupoi an intern during Lupoi’s first season in Tuscaloosa.
— Aaron Suttles (@AaronSuttles) March 21, 2018
Tosh Lupoi was also referred to as an intern back when he officially joined the Alabama program. Lupoi joined the staff as a defensive analyst in 2014 after being a successful defensive line coach at Washington (where he coached under Sarkisian). Lupoi wasn’t in need of redeeming his image. Instead, he was on the move after Sarkisian left Washington for USC, which happens to some coaches during the coaching carousel.
Lupoi could have landed any number of jobs, but a chance to join the Alabama program, even in a lesser role, was one worth considering. After two seasons as a defensive analyst, Lupoi was promoted to the regular staff in 2016 as an outside linebackers coach, and last year he was promoted to co-defensive coordinator while continuing to oversee linebackers. The internship program at Alabama rewards those who thrive in it.
Butch Jones isn’t a bad coach. He was just in over his head. The jump from Cincinnati to Tennessee was not one Jones was ready to make. Despite putting in a good effort and a willingness to try new ideas (even when they didn’t work at all), Jones still has potential to be a solid head coach in the right situation. Like many before him, Jones will likely soon learn that his current position at Alabama will yield a positive outcome. Good things come to those who wait.
Going from being a head coach at a major conference program to being an analyst is a considerable step back for Jones, but if it results in being able to take two steps forward, the effort will be worth it. And there are few places better to do it than at Alabama.