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Cochran Hire Symbolizes A Shift, But Not The One You Think It Does

Alabama v Tennessee Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images

Kirby Smart still has one on field coaching position to fill for 2020, and if rumors are to be believed he’s filling it in an eye-popping, and a little poignant, way.

Multiple outlets are reporting that Alabama strength and conditioning coordinator Scott Cochran is leaving Tuscaloosa for a new role in Athens: special teams coach.

Cochran has been beloved by Crimson Tide players since his arrival at the Capstone in 2007. It’s been well-documented that Cochran perhaps had as much to do with Nick Saban’s unprecedented rebuild of the Alabama program as anyone with the possible exception of his good friend Kirby Smart. Smart tried to bring Cochran to Athens with him in 2016, but Saban responded by making Cochran the best paid off-field staffer in college football.

He’ll now transition to the type of onfield coaching role he’s been interested in taking on for some time. Some of his former Tide charges are pretty happy for him to have the chance.

You can go ahead and brace yourself for Alabama fans saying that Cochran has zero experience in his new role and that Smart is a sucker for allowing him to train on-the-job in Athens. It’s not a position without some logic to it. Cochran has never been in charge of a position group, much less an entire phase of the game, at the college level. That’s something to think about.

But anyone who’s ever talked to Cochran knows that he’s a smart, football-savvy guy. It’s one of the overlooked advantages of his conditioning program: Cochran has long conditioned players for in-game performance, and has a pretty good idea what it looks like. He’s perhaps the most driven, detail-oriented person you’ll ever meet, a man who will undoubtedly throw himself into this opportunity the same way he threw himself into everything he did in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge before that, where he worked in 2003 and 2004.

Nick Saban has never won a college football national championship without Scott Cochran on his staff. This will be the headline in other stories you read about this move. That’s not because Cochran is some talismanic figure, a good luck charm. It’s not because he’s some sort of weight room shaman.

It’s because he’s a guy who’s good at what he does, especially the mental part of it. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Kirby Smart, he’s a big believer in the importance of the mental part of the game. He’s one of the few coaches other than Saban to have hired a team mental trainer. Kirby Smart is looking for every edge he can get his hands on, and Cochran fits that plan.

I am also very curious to see what Scott Cochran looks like on the recruiting trail. The guy relates well to people, and he comes with a strong record of developing players, albeit in a different capacity. You heard it here first: he’s probably going to kill it.

It’s also worth noting the irony of Smart hiring the guy who, many would argue, sounded the figurative death knell for the Mark Richt era in Athens (listen closely at the 1:05 mark).

Sure, the Bulldogs played some of their best football during Richt’s tenure after that fateful visit from the Crimson Tide in 2008. But they did every bit of it in service of chasing down the Tide. In some ways this hire feels a little like Cochran acknowledging that chapter in his professional life is over and that it’s time for something new.

Nick Saban brings back a very good team next season, and he’ll get more resumes to fill this job than he could ever read. He’s going to pay someone very handsomely to fill Scott Cochran’s sweatshirt. So again, don’t fall into the trap of thinking this hire is the end of the Alabama football program. But also don’t fall into the trap of thinking that Kirby Smart is making a lazy “name” hire. That he isn’t pressing every button he can find to make his football team even incrementally better, including by taking chances on people like Todd Monken he hasn’t really worked with, or people like Scott Cochran taking on roles they’ve handled.

This hire is both more and less risky than it seems at first, which is about the most Kirby Smart maneuver available. Until later . . .

Go ‘Dawgs!!!