'Intern' Lupoi latest high-profile UA staffer

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- “What’s an analyst?” was the overwhelming response among the sports information directors polled for this story. They didn’t know, it turns out, because some football staffs use them, some don’t, and some call them by entirely different names, like “quality control” or “recruiting specialist.”

Heck, Nick Saban called his latest analyst an “intern,” bringing to mind coffee runs, car washes and other frivolity -- which couldn’t be further from the truth. This intern happened to be Tosh Lupoi, the 32-year-old former defensive line coach and super recruiter who earned $350,000 at Washington in 2013. Lupoi could hire an army of pimply faced undergrads if he wanted. He wasn’t brought in by Alabama to run errands.

“He's got a lot of good experience both coaching and recruiting,” Saban said of Lupoi earlier this spring. “He didn't get a job this year, didn't have any issues relative to the way we checked him out with the NCAA, which we do with everybody that we hire.

“He's going to be an intern that helps us some in recruiting, a lot in the electronic media part of recruiting, which is something that we feel like we need to improve.”

You’ll have to forgive Saban for his mistake in language. On March 31 he described his role working with cornerbacks in individual drills as that of a “G.A.” under defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. It was a laughable moment, painting the 62-year-old head coach as the highest paid graduate assistant in the world, not to mention the fact he’s likely not pursuing a post-graduate degree on the side.

Dr. Nick Saban, imagine that.

No, Saban is still the head coach and Lupoi is his analyst, Alabama associate athletics director Doug Walker confirmed. Lupoi is, in fact, a full-time employee and one of seven analysts working for the football program.

Drawing on his background in the NFL, Saban has long been ahead of the curve when it comes to building large, supremely qualified support staffs. In addition to the coordinators and position coaches you recognize on the sidelines, there are those who work behind the scenes: interns, graduate assistants, video coordinators, strength coaches and, of course, secretaries. Some have roles like director of player development, football operations coordinator and athletic relations coordinator. Kevin Steele was Alabama’s director of player development before transitioning to linebackers coach this season. Before that, he was a head coach at Baylor and defensive coordinator at Clemson.

But Alabama isn’t alone in stockpiling personnel, though it does appear to be something of an uneven landscape in the SEC. Auburn boasts six analysts and three quality control members, according to its 2013 media guide. Mississippi State has two recruiting specialists and three quality control staffers, according to its online directory. Meanwhile, Tennessee and South Carolina each have one quality control staffer for offense and one for defense, according to their official websites.

More than a handful of SEC schools’ directories and media guides fail to provide any information at all on their analyst-like positions, leaving room for speculation when it comes to historical powerhouse programs like Florida and Georgia, which operate on large staffs and even larger budgets. The Gators, for instance, have nine “non-coaching football staff” members who work full time, according to a member of the UF communications department.

Walk into any major college football complex in the country, and you’ll notice a swarm of activity. The team-issued Polos are often too many to count, far more than NCAA bylaw 11.7.2 outlines: “There shall be a limit of one head coach, nine assistant coaches and four graduate assistant coaches who may be employed by an institution in bowl subdivision football.” By creating roles like that of analyst and quality control, programs can have more bodies to work with, even if they come with limitations that prohibit them from directly coaching athletes or contacting prospective recruits.

Managed effectively, an extra pair of hands and an extra set of eyes can be an enormous advantage for an infrastructure as large and involved as Alabama’s. There are players to watch over, game plans to devise and any number of other institutional responsibilities.

Bigger has always been better when it comes to college football, and coaching staffs are no different. Lupoi’s hire just happens to be the latest warning shot fired in the staffing arms race as Alabama filled a normally low-level position with a candidate any number of athletic directors would have been happy to interview for an on-field coaching job and its accompanying six-figure salary.

In fact, Lupoi was all set to follow Steve Sarkisian from Washington to USC late last year. But a six-week NCAA investigation left him in limbo, and he ultimately dropped into Alabama’s lap, a seasoned coach and successful recruiter wildly overqualified for the position Saban was offering.

Intern? Given Lupoi’s credentials and reputation, he might as well be.

Call him whatever you like, Alabama got a steal even if Lupoi stays for a year as an analyst and moves on to the next job as a position coach or coordinator. His knowledge as a coach and recruiter is worth whatever the University is paying him.