In more than four decades of coaching, this is a new one for Nick Saban. Alabama was forced to make a late alteration to its coaching staff this week as it announced the hiring of Drew Svoboda to replace Jay Graham as the special teams coordinator and tight ends coach.
Graham, who was originally hired for the position in early February, stepped down from the job two weeks ago citing mental health reasons. Since then, assistant Todd Watson has been filling in on an interim basis.
After being officially brought onto the staff on Monday, Svoboda has barely had any time to study Alabama’s playbook much less relay any coaching to Crimson Tide players in the midst of spring camp. Wednesday, Saban explained that Watson will continue to coach the players on an interim basis this spring.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever had to hire a guy in the middle of spring practice,” Saban said during his post-practice interview. “We’re not going to throw him out there in front of the players. He’s learning our system, he’s learning our scheme, he’s actually having input in the meetings but really can’t coach the players.”
Saban said that Watson, who was hired as special assistant to the head coach in February, had already been serving as the “No. 1 intern” in special teams before Graham’s departure. The head coach expressed confidence in Watson and the rest of the staff’s ability to cope with the unexpected hurdle as it progresses through spring practice.
“We’re probably a lot more flexible now when it comes to coaches because last year, we had guys in and out,” Saban said. “I think we had five full-time coaches for the LSU game last year so we’re a little more flexible when things like this happen. And Todd has done a good job of stepping up and helping us get through the spring. I haven’t seen us skip a beat from a special teams execution standpoint.”
Svoboda, who was hired by Alabama after originally taking the special teams coordinator role at Memphis in January, joins the staff after spending the past three seasons at Rice. He served as the Owls running backs coach in 2018 before spending the past two years tutoring fullbacks and working on special teams.
Prior to his time in college, Svoboda was a highly successful head coach in Texas where he guided Klein Collins High School to five district championships and eight playoff appearances while posting a 93-24 record in 10 seasons as head coach.
“We’re really pleased with [the hire],” Saban said. “He’s got a lot of connections. He knows a lot of people in Texas which we thought was very, very important. He was the best teacher in the interview and certainly hasn’t disappointed in his input that he’s had to this point.”