Bill O’Brien has been hired as offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, according to multiple reports, after two years as Alabama football’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He was also listed on the Patriots’ staff for the East-West Shrine Bowl.
The Crimson Tide will have to hire its third offensive coordinator in five seasons. Texas coach Steve Sarkisian served as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator in 2019 and 2020.
As for the next offensive coordinator, four of the last five — O’Brien, Sarkisian, Mike Locksley and Lane Kiffin — have used the Alabama job as a rebound. Also, three of the past four had most recently coached in the NFL.
With those patterns in mind, here are some candidates who could make sense for coach Nick Saban to hire as his next offensive coordinator.
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Jason Garrett, former New York Giants offensive coordinator/Dallas Cowboys coach
Garrett had never coached before when Saban decided to hire him as his quarterbacks coach with the Miami Dolphins.
While at the Senior Bowl one year, Saban kept hearing that he needed to talk with Garrett, who served as Troy Aikman’s backup in Dallas. So Saban did. And he hired Garrett.
After working for Saban, Garrett went on to become offensive coordinator for the Cowboys in 2007 before becoming head coach in 2011. Most recently, Garrett was offensive coordinator of the New York Giants before being fired in 2021.
“If I made one mistake as a pro coach it was, after one year, he should have been made offensive coordinator,” Saban said eight years ago. “He was that good. That smart. Players responded to him that well.”
Right now, Garrett is an analyst for NBC Sports, but if he wants to get back into coaching, Alabama could be a good fit.
Jeff Lebby, Oklahoma offensive coordinator
Lebby is an intriguing option. He worked under Lane Kiffin for two years at Ole Miss, and during that time, the Rebels finished No. 3 and No. 6 in yards per game nationally. Ole Miss was also in the top 25 each year for points per game.
In his lone year with the Sooners this past year, Lebby coordinated an offense that finished No. 33 in points per game and No. 13 in yards per game.
He was also the offensive coordinator at UCF in 2019 before arriving in Oxford.
He played for Oklahoma in college, so it might be difficult to pry him away, but a chance to coordinate Alabama’s offense in a return to the SEC could entice Lebby.
Kliff Kingsbury, former Arizona Cardinals/Texas Tech coach
He fits right in the mold of a fired former NFL/college coach, like O’Brien.
The Cardinals let Kingsbury go in January after four seasons. Before that, Kingsbury coached Texas Tech from 2013-18. Plus, Kingsbury has connections with Bill Belichick: the Patriots selected him in the sixth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Patriots connections (see O’Brien and Brian Daboll) tend to help in the eyes of Saban.
Kingsbury is an experienced play-caller who has SEC experience. Specifically, he was Texas A&M’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2012, serving as Johnny Manziel’s coach when the quarterback won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman. That team also beat Alabama 29-24 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
One more thing on Kingsbury’s resume that is sure to register with recruits: He coached Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in college.
Nick Caley, New England Patriots tight ends coach
He’s never been an offensive coordinator before, but he could make sense.
Caley has been an offensive assistant under Belichick for several years. Caley has coached the tight ends since 2017 and was one name many thought could succeed Josh McDaniels as Patriots offensive coordinator this past offseason.
Belichick decided to give offensive coordinator duties to Matt Patricia/Joe Judge this season instead of Caley, but Sports Illustrated reported Belichick didn’t know if Caley was going to be in New England past 2022 when Caley’s contract expires, and Belichick didn’t want to have to go through the process of replacing him in 2023 if Caley was offensive coordinator.
The relationship between Saban and Belichick has been well-documented. If the Patriots coach recommended Caley to Saban, the Alabama coach would surely take a look at him.
It wouldn’t be the first time Alabama hired someone in Caley’s position. Brian Daboll was also the Patriots’ tight end coach before he took the Alabama offensive coordinator job. After coaching Alabama in the 2017 season, Daboll went on to become the Buffalo Bills OC and then coach of the New York Giants this season.
Caley and Daboll differ in that Daboll had been an offensive coordinator for three NFL teams before his three seasons as tight ends coach for Belichick. Caley, who turns 40 in January, does not yet have coordinator experience at any level.
Nonetheless, perhaps Belichick believes in Caley’s potential and recommends him to Saban.
Freddie Kitchens, South Carolina senior analyst/former Cleveland Browns coach
He’s a former UA quarterback who won Mr. Football while at Etowah High School in 1992, but Kitchens’ qualifications stem past his Alabama roots.
Kitchens has NFL coordinator experience for the Browns as well as the Giants in 2021 when he stepped in on an interim basis after Garrett was fired. He also served as coach of the Browns in 2019 before he was fired after one year.
Kitchens has also worked for the Cardinals (running backs and tight ends), Cowboys (tight ends) as well as Mississippi State (tight ends) and North Texas (running backs). But a stop that is most notable is where he worked in 2000.
Kitchens was a graduate assistant on Saban’s staff at LSU.
Saban also spoke highly of Kitchens after the former quarterback was named coach of the Cleveland Browns in 2019.
“I think Freddie has got a tremendous sort of psychological disposition of what it takes to be successful as a coach,” Saban said on NFL Network. “He knows how important it is to be knowledgeable, because that knowledge is what helps you create good relationships and trust with your players. He’s been around some great people. Bill Parcells. Some really, really good people he’s learned from. He’s got great common sense. He’s very bright. Very intelligent. He understands human behavior extremely well.
“They’ve got some good young players, and I think Freddie will do an outstanding job with those guys.”
During the 2022 season, Kitchens was a senior football analyst for South Carolina.
Greg Roman, former Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator
Roman only has a brief stint in college coaching as the Stanford tight ends and offensive tackles coach more than a decade ago, but his NFL resume is plenty impressive. He could be in line for a coaching rehab working under Saban.
Roman was fired recently after running Baltimore’s offense since 2019. He was named the AP NFL assistant coach of the year in 2019. That same year, his work with quarterback Lamar Jackson resulted in Jackson winning the NFL most valuable player in only his second year in the NFL.
That could be quite enticing to recruits if Roman has interest in coaching at the college level, but it would likely include a shift in offense as Roman is known for his run-heavy scheme.
Joe Brady, Buffalo Bills QB coach
He’s another young option at 33, but he’s an intriguing one nonetheless.
He was the passing coordinator for LSU when the Tigers beat Alabama in 2019 and he won the Broyles award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach. Brady went on to become offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers for two seasons. Now, he is the quarterbacks coach for Josh Allen this year.
Brady also could bring new ideas, has familiarity with the SEC and has NFL experience on the resume. That all makes him worth calling for the Alabama offensive coordinator opening.
Contact Alabama reporter Nick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly.
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Alabama football offensive coordinator candidates: Replacing Bill O’Brien