This is what I wrote for today’s print editions:
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Alabama’s offensive coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, spends games in the press box, away from the action on the field. The cameras almost never focus on him there.
Nussmeier usually doesn’t do interviews with reporters because Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban rarely allows his staff members to speak with the media.
Alabama’s offense has produced results sort of similar this year to what it has in Saban’s previous five seasons as head coach. Considering all that, some Tide fans might not even realize somebody different called plays this year.
The former offensive coordinator, Jim McElwain, left after four seasons on Saban’s staff to become Colorado State’s head coach. Saban hired Nussmeier, who has coached five quarterbacks drafted by NFL teams but had only one season as a play-caller before arriving in Tuscaloosa — 2008 at Fresno State.
So, what kind of impact has Alabama gained from Nussmeier, who will call the Crimson Tide’s plays Monday in the BCS National Championship Game?
“I personally think Coach Nuss has had a big impact on our offense,” Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron said. “He’s brought a bunch of different plays, also a different mindset to this offense than we had last year. I know personally he’s helped me tremendously.”
If you want to delve into the specifics of Nussmeier’s impact, good luck in getting that out of him. He won’t go into plays, offensive sets or anything like that. When he was given his first chance Thursday to address reporters since a preseason meeting Aug. 5, he hinted his job was to not ruin an offense that was serviceable if not overly flashy.
“When I got here at the end of last year and Coach (Saban) hired me, it was very important for me to really dive into the offense that was here, obviously that had success, and look at the things that our players had done and done well, and then find things that maybe I had done in the past that I could bring to help fit into this system,” Nussmeier said.
Saban has emphasized in the past that he wants his offense to play to the talents of the players on the team, and looking at the numbers, it seems Nussmeier did that.
With an experienced offensive line that had a knack for run blocking, Alabama ran the ball more often this year than it did in any of the previous three seasons, when Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson played running back. The Crimson Tide attempted a run 63.6 percent of the time, compared to 58.7 in 2011, 51.3 in 2010 and 63.4 in 2009.
“Obviously, the goal of any offense is to put your playmakers in position to make plays,” Nussmeier said.
“Scoring points, having balance — those are the things you focus on. Sometimes as the flow of the game dictates, you do certain things and you start to do them and you do them well and you stay with them.”
Nussmeier even brought a little no-huddle offense to the Alabama game plan late in the season, although the Tide didn’t seem to run its plays all that much faster than it did when huddling.
“I think if you look at college football in general, that’s a growing trend — no-huddle offense, speed, hurry-up,” Nussmeier said. “As any game you play, the ability to change the tempo of the game offensively or defensively can create a competitive advantage for you.”
McCarron said Nussmeier’s biggest impact has come on him.
“It’s kind of crazy — I have less pass attempts than I did last year, but better numbers all the way around,” McCarron said. “I think that shows a big part of his coaching ability and the way he’s helped me grow, not only as a leader but as a quarterback this year.”
In glancing at McCarron’s statistics, he is correct. He attempted 42 fewer passes this year but threw for 35 more yards, 10 more touchdowns and had the same completion percentage of 66.8.
Saban didn’t take questions Thursday, but he discussed Nussmeier recently.
“I think he’s doing fine,” he said. “We were pleased with the progress that we’ve made offensively and the consistency that we’ve played with. Are there things we can do better? No doubt. Are there are some situations in games that maybe we could have managed differently and done better? I don’t think (there’s) any doubt.
“But I do think that the offensive staff and Doug has done a really nice job, the players have made progress and I think the players believe in the coaches and what we’re trying to do.”
Nussmeier’s play-calling has faced some criticism this season. In the 29-24 loss to Texas A&M, Alabama faced questions that it didn’t run the ball enough. After a 32-28 win over Georgia, the Crimson Tide again faced questions it didn’t run the ball as often early as it should have.
He said he always goes over his play calls afterward, evaluating what he did right and what might’ve gone wrong. In this regard, his reaction isn’t all that different from anyone in the stands.
“The ones that work are always good ones,” he said, smiling. “The ones that don’t are always bad ones.”