Alabama’s offense will seemingly be heading in a different direction in 2023. After offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien left to take his old job with the New England Patriots, coach Nick Saban replaced him with Notre Dame’s Tommy Rees.
This wasn’t Rees’ first flirtation with an SEC job. A former Notre Dame quarterback under Brian Kelly, Rees was Kelly’s first choice as the offensive coordinator at LSU last offseason. However, Rees ultimately chose to stay, and Kelly hired Cincinnati’s Mike Denbrock, a longtime former Kelly assistant.
Rees leaving his alma mater just a year later raised some eyebrows, but the reasoning makes a good deal of sense. According to The Athletic’s Pete Sampson, a pay raise played a factor. But Rees was also granted more autonomy under new coach Marcus Freeman, a defensive-minded coach.
Sampson elaborated on the situation during an appearance on the Paul Finebaum show.
“And I think that once the sort of, finances got taken off the board, then it was a question of ‘Well I can go with Brian Kelly and basically be the same coach I’ve been for the last five years at Notre Dame. Just with different colors. Or I can stay at Notre Dame, even though it’s the same place, and do a different job,’” Sampson said on “The Paul Finebaum Show” on Tuesday. “Because, suddenly, he had autonomy under a defensive head coach with Marcus Freeman. And I think that Rees really got to flex a little bit last season in some spots.”
Under Kelly, who himself has a background as an offensive coach, Rees didn’t get to really get his hands fully around running the offense.
“When you’re an offensive coordinator for an offensive head coach, you’re sort of — you’re not quite the full coordinator, some times. And I think that Rees got a taste of that last season, under Marcus Freeman. So ultimately that was why he decided to stay. But I think it’s also the reason he decided to leave, the professional development question,” Sampson said.
Sampson said that part of the appeal of making the jump to Alabama was the idea that Saban could play an integral role in putting the finishing touches on Rees’ development as an offensive coordinator.
We’ll see if that proves to be the case as the Tide embark on what feels like the beginning of a third act under Saban this offseason.
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