TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The reunion happened sometime in the early spring, probably in a hallway at the University of Alabama football complex, or perhaps in the weight room.
Acquaintances running into each other is a common occurrence in the building, especially among coaches, scouts and even reporters. But this one involved a player and his former coach. When junior running back Bo Scarbrough played at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., Chris Weinke was his head coach.
Weinke’s now an offensive analyst for the Crimson Tide.
“When I was in my last year down there at IMG he told me ‘I guarantee you in two years I’ll be with an NFL team or a college team.’ In two years, he was with the Rams,” Scarbrough said.
“It wasn’t shocking to me. I was just happy to have him here.”
To some of Scarbrough’s teammates, Weinke’s probably best known for being on “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Los Angeles Rams” last year. One of the then-quarterback coach’s comments about the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft became the biggest storyline of the first episode: “I happened to ask Jared Goff where the sun rises and where the sun sets and he said he wasn’t sure.”
Meanwhile, older college football fans know him as the 2000 Heisman Trophy winner who first gave baseball a serious go and made it all the way up to Triple-A in the Toronto Blue Jays organization before enrolling at Florida State as a 26-year-old freshman. He helped lead the Seminoles to the 1999 national title (Bobby Bowden’s second and last), and subsequently threw for more than 4,000 yards as a senior.
Chris Weinke to Ron Dugans for 6!!! pic.twitter.com/PzWWcPervh
— Nole Legends (@NoleLegends) June 6, 2017
To people in other parts of the country he’s a legend, and not just in Florida. In St. Paul, Minn., where Weinke and I both grew up, they debate about who was the best quarterback to ever play at Cretin-Derham Hall High School. The school has had its fair share of athletic stars, from Hall of Fame baseball player Paul Molitor to former All-Pro center Matt Birk.
Although it boasts former University of Miami quarterbacks Steve and Chris Walsh (no relation), the argument often comes down to Weinke and Joe Mauer. The Minnesota Twins standout actually had better numbers, going 26-2 in his two years as a starter and throwing for 5,528 yards and 73 touchdowns.
But Weinke’s second career — or is it third career? — appears to off to a good start.
“[Coach] Weinke really got me to understand what I would need to do at the next level, and what I should expect at the next level,” Scarbrough said. “He was preparing me for college, and has really been a help to me.”
— Billy Miller (@_thebillymiller) March 2, 2017
Now he’s an asset for Alabama — ironically just before it faces his alma mater Sept. 2 in the season opener in Atlanta.
Weinke and former Ole Miss offensive coordinator Dan Werner are following former Southern California and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, and former Maryland interim head coach Mike Locksley, who were Crimson Tide analysts last season. Both were promoted, Sarkisian to offensive coordinator for the College Football Playoff Championship Game and subsequently hired for the same role with the Atlanta Falcons, and Locksley to co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach.
The way Nick Saban sees it, he has nothing to lose by having people with that kind of know-how around the program. Specific to this season, factor in new coordinator Brian Daboll plus everyone else and there’s a wide range of input going into the offense.
“We’ve learned a tremendous amount from all of those guys,” Saban said. “I think that’s the No. 1 thing. I think their knowledge and experience and I think they’re very much respected. I think we need different types of people.
“We have guys that do nothing but break down film. We have guys that do nothing but draw plays and we have guys that make contributions based on their knowledge and experience formulating a game plan. They’re somebody that other guys on the staff certainly respect, so I think that experience is really, really good. And I think it’s a great learning experience for all of us.”
The job doesn’t pay much. Sarkisian made $ 35,000 while rejuvenating his career last year, and on paper this is nothing more than a glorified internship. There isn’t even a contract.
But it’s also a way that Saban has helped some of his former players get into coaching. William Vlachos, Wes Neighbors and Gene Matias-Smith are all analysts, while Denzel Devall is director of player development, Glen Coffee is a student assistant, Nick Perry is a graduate assistant and Javier Arenas just joined the programs as well in a yet-undefined role. Josh Chapman is a strength and conditioning coach.
That hasn’t stopped other coaches from complaining that adding analysts, in addition to quality-control coaches and administrative assistants, is like adding another layer beyond the maximum 10-person coaching staff.
“My philosophy is we should be able to have whatever staff size we want to have,” Saban said. “I mean whatever we’re willing to invest because we’re investing in the players. Everybody thinks we’re creating a competitive advantage, but really what we’re investing in is the players. Whether it’s academic-support folks, whether it’s administrators, whether it’s player-development coaches, all these things help us have the kind of program where players can have a better chance to be successful in life. I think we should be able to have whatever we want.
“If somebody else doesn’t like it, they should hire more people, too.”
Analysts are not allowed to instruct players on the field or recruit, and during games they can only listen in on the coaching staff on headsets. Otherwise, their job involves a lot of film work. They primarily do what the job sounds like, analyze.
Already having experience at the high school and pro level, working at Alabama will only make Weinke that much more attractive of a coaching prospect. And Saban has a long history of promoting and rehiring coaches he’s already worked with. That Weinke signed on with Alabama in February, just after the Rams let him go in the wake of Jeff Fisher’s firing, might indicate which direction Weinke wants to go.
“We’ve always had a lot of respect for Chris Weinke,” Saban said in the spring. “The guy was a great player. He played a long time in the league. He’s very knowledgeable. He’s very smart. He was a great high school coach at IMG. He went to the NFL and got a couple good years of experience in the NFL. So we thought he’d bring some knowledge and experience and certainty be helpful to us off the field and helping us with game plan.”
Plus, Jalen Hurts and the other Alabama quarterbacks have a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback around.
He just might be a bigger addition than anyone fully realizes.
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