Alabama Seeing Major Defensive Changes in the 2023 Off-Season

For the first time since the off-season of 2019, the defense of the Alabama Crimson Tide undergoes some major changes. On December 7th, co-defensive coordinator Charles Kelly was hired as the defensive coordinator for the Colorado Buffaloes. He has been with the Crimson Tide since the 2019 season. Kelly will now be able to lead his defense under first-year head coach Deion Sanders.

The biggest defensive change this off-season for Alabama and head coach Nick Saban is defensive coordinator Pete Golding leaves for the Ole Miss Rebels for the same position. He was hired by Rebels head coach and former Alabama assistant Lane Kiffin on January 13th. Golding has been the main defensive coordinator since 2019, and previously was a co-defensive coordinator with Josh Lupoi.

This is a move that many Alabama fans have been wanting for some years as the production of the defense has not matched the talent of the players and the production of the years before Goldings’ control. In 2017, Alabama had the top-ranked scoring defense under defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. In the following years, Alabama cracked in the top ten of scoring defense until this 2022 season when Alabama ranked ninth in points allowed per game (18.2). The highlights of Alabama’s defense allowed five receptions touchdowns from Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt in the 52-49 road loss to #6 Tennessee and allowed the game-winning two-point conversion play in the 32-31 overtime road loss to #10 LSU.

Alabama Seeing Major Defensive Changes in the 2023 Off-Season

Austin Armstrong Adds Youth and Insight Development to Tide’s Defense

Alabama has already addressed these defensive changes for the upcoming 2023 season by hiring former Southern Miss defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach Austin Armstrong for the inside linebackers coach. Depending on who is joining Alabama as the next defensive coordinator, Armstrong may also be the co-defensive coordinator for the upcoming season.

After graduating from Huntingdon College in 2016 and playing linebacker for the Huntingdon Hawks, Armstrong served as the assistant defensive line coach for the West Georgia Wolves in 2016. That season, the Wolves’ defense accumulated 84 tackles for loss, 57 quarterback hits, and 34 sacks. Armstrong went on to serve as a defensive graduate assistant coach for the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns in 2017 and 2018. He continued to progress in the coaching ranks as he became a defensive quality coach for the Georgia Bulldogs in 2019. Armstrong spent the year learning under Smart, defensive coordinator Dan Lenning (now the head coach of Oregon), and co-defensive coordinator Glenn Schumann.

In the 2020 season, Armstrong became the inside LB coach for the Ragin’ Cajuns. It only took one season as a position coach for him to become the defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach for the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. In his first season as defensive coordinator, the Golden Eagles were ranked 80th in the nation in points allowed per game (27.9) as they were also ranked 24th in passing yards allowed per game (202).

This past season, the Golden Eagles improved dramatically, going from 3-9 in 2021 to 7-6 with a LendingTree Bowl win in 2022. The Golden Eagles finished the 2022 season ranked 45th in points allowed per game (23.5) and 47th in rushing yards allowed per game (138.2). Southern Miss had three players named to the All-Sun Belt team (all on third-team).

Two Prime Candidates for Defensive Coordinator for Alabama

While Alabama has found its inside linebacker coach, a position previously owned by Golding, the Tide still has to find their defensive coordinator. Several candidates come to mind for the title of defensive coordinator for Alabama this off-season. One of the biggest names that jump to mind for Alabama is former Wisconsin defensive coordinator/interim head coach Jim Leonhard. In the six years as the defensive coordinator for Wisconsin, the Badgers ranked in the top ten of scoring defense. This past season, Wisconsin ranked 17th in points allowed per game (20.2) because Leonhard also had to lead the Badgers as interim head coach in the final eight games. Leonhard left Wisconsin because the program decided to hire Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell for the same position. If Saban were to hire Leonhard, he could be a great candidate to become head coach of the Tide after Saban retires.

Another potential defensive coordinator who could be the future of Alabama is Georgia co-defensive coordinator Glenn Schumann. He has been in the program since 2019 and has been learning under Smart and Dan Lanning. Schumann has been instrumental in developing three top-five-ranked scoring defenses in the past four seasons. Schumann could be another potential future head coach for Alabama after Saban leaves.

Wildcard Candidates That Make Sense for the Defensive Coordinator of Alabama

Other coaches include former defensive coordinator and Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt. Pruitt developed great defenses in the 2016 & 2017 seasons but has a deep stain in the landscape of college football after his recruiting scandals at Tennessee. He was last a senior defensive assistant for the New York Giants in 2021.

Finally, one wildcard coach that is an attractive candidate for Alabama’s defensive coordinator is former Washington Huskies defensive coordinator/head coach Jimmy Lake. In his four years controlling the defenses of the Huskies, he has created three top-five scoring defenses and several highly talented players, who are stars in the NFL. One of these players is Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker. He took over as head coach of Washington after Chris Peterson resigned. Lake started the 2020 and most of the 2021 career with a 7-6 overall record and a 6-4 record in PAC-12 but was fired after he shoved one of his players as he surfaced issues problems on-and-off the field.

Lake possesses previous baggage, but Saban hired Steve Sarkisian shortly after his off-the-field incident. Saban hiring Lake only adds him to the list of coaching rehabs to get back into the field. Lake has not had a collegiate or professional job since November 2021.