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Kalen DeBoer, Alabama share ‘chip on shoulder’ after Saban

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By jeenmediaa


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The old adage that it’s better to follow the man who followed the man than to follow the man isn’t lost on Kalen DeBoer.

DeBoer has heard that one a time or two since replacing the legendary Nick Saban last month as Alabama‘s head football coach. But he said Wednesday that the honor of being the one chosen to replace Saban far outweighs any pressure he might feel.

“I look at it as a privilege, and not pressure, to be able to come to a place like this,” DeBoer told ESPN. “I understand that there are expectations that are extremely high. But think about what the alternative is — to be at a place that doesn’t have expectations.

“That’s not what I’m looking for, not what I’ve gone through to get to this point.”

DeBoer guided Washington to the College Football Playoff national championship game in his second season before losing to Michigan. The Huskies were 4-8 the year before DeBoer arrived, and he has won 11 or more games in seven of his nine seasons as a head coach.

He’s also well aware of the current narrative that Alabama is finally vulnerable regardless of DeBoer’s achievements.

“I think there’s maybe a common chip on our shoulder,” DeBoer said. “Our players here at Alabama fell an overtime short of playing for the national championship last year. We were one step away from winning the national championship at Washington.

“Let’s take that next step together.”

DeBoer said he wants Alabama to be in “attack” mode in everything it does, similar to the way Washington carved teams apart on offense the past two seasons. The Huskies were one of four FBS teams (along with Georgia, Oregon and USC) to average 36 or more points per game each of the past two seasons.

“It’s the same way on defense, and it doesn’t mean that the ball’s always flying down the field 40 or 50 yards on offense, either,” DeBoer said. “It’s a mindset that if you feel like there’s a play that can be made, we don’t need to set it up with two or three more play calls. We can go at it right now and we’re going to be so dialed in with our game plan and the details that we see on film, the guys we’re trying to attack, that when we make a check or we make a call, everyone understands why we’re doing it.”

As recently as five years ago, DeBoer was the offensive coordinator at Indiana. One of the things he has always prided himself on was coaching right where his feet were and not casting a wandering eye to the next job.

It was the same way at Sioux Falls when he won three NAIA national championships in 2006, 2008 and 2009. It was the same way at Fresno State in 2020-21 before landing his first Power 5 head job at Washington. But when he got the call on the night of Jan. 10 that Alabama wanted to talk, DeBoer never flinched. He loved Washington and everything about leading the Huskies’ program and what the future held there.

But it’s not every day that history knocks on your door.

“It’s something that you build up for to be ready,” DeBoer said. “And I think a lot of people always say they want to be at the highest level. They want to be competing against the best, but a lot of people get to that point and then they realize maybe that wasn’t what they wanted to be a part of. There’s a point you get to in your career where you still have that hunger and that drive to take on new challenges and new opportunities, but you’re also convicted enough in who you are and what you’ve been through to know that you can do it.

“That’s where I was in my career, and the thing you’ve got to remember is that it all happened so fast. You wake up Wednesday morning and Alabama is nowhere on your radar. And then you hear the news and get the call. So when I say fast, it was really fast.”

DeBoer’s answer when Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne quizzed him about following in Saban’s shadow only reinforced what Byrne already knew about DeBoer. After all, every athletic director keeps a working short list of candidates, especially when their head coach reaches his 70s.

“I’m going to embrace Coach Saban and what he and Mrs. Terry [Saban] represent and mean to this university,” DeBoer told Byrne. “There’s only one person that’s ever going to get to do that, to follow Coach Saban. What a challenge, what an honor, what an opportunity.”

DeBoer said he and Saban have talked a handful of times, but haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk at length.

“I look forward to doing that,” DeBoer said. “Our schedules haven’t really allowed it, but I can’t imagine having a better resource to go to on any number of topics.”

Saban said he hasn’t been back in the football complex since DeBoer was hired, but only because he wants to give DeBoer the opportunity to get settled. It has also been a whirlwind for DeBoer, who has gone through a couple of different waves of assembling his staff.

Ryan Grubb was initially coming with him to be the offensive coordinator, but left to be the Seattle Seahawks’ offensive coordinator and took offensive line coach Scott Huff with him. DeBoer replaced Huff with veteran Chris Kapilovic, who had just been hired away from Michigan State from Baylor. DeBoer also brought Nick Sheridan with him from Washington. Sheridan, the Huskies’ tight ends coach last season, was named as Grubb’s replacement as offensive coordinator, and DeBoer told ESPN on Wednesday that Sheridan would call plays for the Tide. Sheridan was Indiana’s playcaller in 2020-21.

DeBoer said he knew holding onto Grubb would be difficult and felt initially that Grubb might be his replacement as head coach at Washington. He likes the mix of his staff with Saban holdovers Freddie Roach coaching the defensive line and Robert Gillespie coaching running backs. Veteran SEC outside linebackers coach Christian Robinson was the most recent hire. He coached at Baylor last season, but coached previously at Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

General manager Courtney Morgan and receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard came with DeBoer from Washington, and he hired two sitting head coaches — South Alabama’s Kane Wommack as defensive coordinator and Buffalo’s Maurice Linguist as co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

“I think we nailed it with our staff, guys who’ve been with me and coached with me, guys who’ve coached in the SEC and guys who’ve been head coaches,” DeBoer said. “We’ve got guys who bring great energy and are great motivators, and they have the balance of being able to connect with guys and also push them to be their best.”



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