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Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Alabama's success begs duplication

By Alex Scarborough

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Football is a game of imitation. Coaches beg, borrow and steal from one another. In the fraternity, it's a matter of good form, if not outright flattery.

Patrick Suddes
Patrick Suddes, who recently went to Texas as the Longhorns' director of player personnel, is one of several Alabama staffers to leave this offseason.
Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner had no idea his Single-wing look would become the Wildcat offense we know today. He couldn't have known Kentucky would popularize the formation. Arkansas would call it the Wild Hog, Ole Miss the Wild Rebel and Virginia Tech the Wild Turkey; none even slightly distinguishable from the other. What mattered was it worked.

Though the use of the Wildcat has waned in recent years, there was once a time where you couldn't turn on the television without seeing it. High school, college, the NFL; they all followed the movement.

And now, the trend is toward all things Alabama. You can't scan the college football landscape without seeing the influence of the Crimson Tide and their head coach, Nick Saban. After three championships in four years, the sport has stopped wondering "Why them?" and started asking "Why not us, too?"

Whether it's Alabama's offensive scheme, its defensive alignment or the structure of its coaching staff, everyone is after the Tide's secret recipe. It's why year after year programs poach assistant coaches from under Saban's wing. This offseason alone, three position coaches were hired away, two of which took jobs in the NFL.

The University of Texas, spoiled with talent yet thirsting for success, has turned to Tuscaloosa as a roadmap in its return to prominence. Coach Mack Brown, a man who used to set the curve, is trying to catch up in Austin.

Less than a month after watching Alabama nab two top in-state recruits from under his nose -- A'Shawn Robinson and Maurice Smith -- Brown shook up his staff, creating a position for director of player development. With the posting, Brown acknowledged whose lead he was following.

"Alabama is ahead of all of us with the number of personnel that they’ve hired," Brown said. "And that’s something that everybody is looking very closely at."

It was no wonder that when Brown and Texas found its man, he'd have ties to Saban and Alabama. Patrick Suddes, the former associate director of football operations at UA, proved to be Texas' second hire in the past three years from the Capstone.

As a cherry on top, the school's news release quoted Saban, who gave Suddes a ringing endorsement.

But Texas isn't alone in following Alabama's mold. Florida State, another program with robust talent and sparse accolades in recent years, has turned to the Saban coaching manual. This offseason, it hired two former Alabama assistants: former secondary coach Jeremy Pruitt and former linebackers coach Sal Sunseri.

Jimbo Fisher, who was the offensive coordinator under Saban at LSU, didn't find Pruitt and Sunseri by accident. The now fourth-year head coach at Florida State is trying to bring a championship back to Tallahassee, Fla., sooner rather than later. And if Saban's method works in the SEC, why can't it work in the ACC as well?

Pruitt, for his part, hasn't shied away from his background at Alabama. He's already selling players on becoming the next Rolando McClain or Dont'a Hightower, two stars he helped coach under Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. UA has put more than a dozen defenders in the NFL since 2009, and that's not lost on players outside of Tuscaloosa.

"I'm pretty much playing that same spot," Jones told NoleNation. "I want to be able to do that, too."

From players to coaches to athletic directors, replicating the success found at Alabama is the goal. It's not a matter of reinventing the wheel, it's getting it spinning fast enough to catch up to the leader.

As Alabama continues building its dynasty, expect more and more programs to follow its path. It's not jealousy and it's not stealing, it's a matter of flattery.