“That’s 100 percent part of the hiring process,” McElwain said.
At SEC Media Days two weeks ago, Anfernee Jennings, a 2018 starting linebacker, was asked to assess the difference between 2017 defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, and his replacement, Tosh Lupoi. “It’s going to be much of the same thing, just a different person calling it.” Jennings said.
To be sure, Alabama has other structural advantages that could cancel out the disadvantage of its sweeping staff overhaul. The Crimson Tide generally have more good players than any other program in the SEC (53 draft picks the last six seasons, 15 in the first round). Also, the SEC has lost some of its finest coaches in the Saban era — Florida’s Urban Meyer is now at Ohio State, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier is retired, L.S.U.’s Les Miles got fired after failing to match the big red rival. Their replacements have been no match for Saban so far.
In the last two years, impatient fans and boosters have forced school presidents to replace three coaches in the SEC’s Western Division, who were not able to compete with Saban (Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, Arkansas’ Bret Bielema and Miles). A fourth coach, Mississippi’s Hugh Freeze, was fired for reasons related to trying to keep up with Alabama: N.C.A.A. recruiting violations. Since 2012, every school in the SEC, besides Alabama, has replaced its head coach, which means those schools have their own staff turnover to manage.
Schools trying to compete with Saban invariably take a step back attempting a big step forward, which is similar to what is happening in the N.F.L.’s A.F.C. East. Owners fire coaches failing to catch Saban’s friend, Bill Belichick, who has coached the New England Patriots since 2000.
“That’s one of the amazing things about Saban,” Bowden said. “He doesn’t just lose a good man, he loses good men, and I don’t see any shortage of the number of quality players and how they play. I’ve tried to figure out why, why, why.”