TUSCALOOSA — Upon first glance, Bret Bielema stereotyped a bespectacled Dan Enos as a “mild-mannered” football nerd with a savant-like knowledge of quarterbacks.
Upon hiring the former Central Michigan State head coach as Arkansas’ offensive coordinator in 2015, it wasn’t long before Bielema realized there was more than meets the eye beneath Enos’ horned-rimmed glasses.
“I always say he’s kind of got that ‘Clark Kent’ feel to him with the glasses,” Bielema told the Decatur Daily/TimesDaily last month. “You see what you get, and you think you’re getting this kind of Jedi-nerd type, quasi, pretty straight-laced (coach), don’t know what he’s going to do.
“And then the first time on a football field, I mean, he grinds those guys and gets after them, and then he’s going to put his arm around them and love them up.”
Bielema further elaborated on his “Clark Kent” comparison later: “He’s able to adapt to the right moment, he can be the (buttoned-up) guy, but he can be Superman if he needs to.”
Three months into his new role as Alabama’s quarterback coach/associate head coach, Crimson Tide players and coaches have seen much more of the latter as Enos has quickly established himself as possibly the most impactful coaching addition in Nick Saban’s offseason staff overhaul.
The 49-year-old Enos was hired in February, one of six additions to a remodeled staff as Saban sought to create distinction between newly-promoted offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and the Tide quarterbacks.
While there’s still some uncertainty regarding how the starting quarterback competition will play out in August, there’s no question that separating the coordinator and quarterback responsibilities has paid dividends.
Saban said quarterbacks are now getting quicker feedback.
“The best way to teach is, if somebody makes a mistake or if somebody makes a good play, either one, to get immediate feedback is probably the best way to learn,” Saban said. “When the offensive coordinator was over on the side running the practice, putting up signs, running plays, he’s not even in a position to give the quarterback feedback.”
Saban followed the NFL model to hire a quarterback coach when the NCAA allowed the addition of a 10th coach.
Bbased on player reaction, Enos has already helped infuse some unique energy into Alabama’s football facility.
“He brings a lot of fire and a lot of juice. I’m not around him too much, but I hear him,” Tide senior center Ross Pierschbacher said. “(The quarterback) meeting room is right next to ours, so I always hear him yelling and being loud and vocal. I think that’s good for our quarterbacks. Hopefully, he’ll have them grow as well.”
Connects with quarterbacks
Enos’ ability to connect with his quarterbacks as part-taskmaster, part-parent is what those who’ve worked with him say is among his best qualities, and why they believe he’ll make a significant impact at Alabama.
“He’s energetic, that’s the perfect way to describe him. He loves coaching football. Any time he’s out there he’s giving the whole team his all,” former Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen said of Enos. “He’s not out there to waste any time, he’s out there to try and get everyone better. So he’s going to demand a lot out of the QBs, and a lot out of everyone else. He wants you to learn how to run a perfect route, how to take the perfect drops, and he’s going to be out there coaching and teaching.”
Working with Hurts, Tagovailoa
Enos is tasked with helping lead a talented and now overanalyzed quarterback room, where two-year incumbent starter and former SEC offensive player of the year Jalen Hurts is in an open competition with talented sophomore Tua Tagovailoa, who helped the Tide’s comeback in January’s national championship game.
“He’s going to get the most out of them. He’s going to be tough on them, but he also understands the QB position because he played it at Michigan State,” Allen said of Enos. “Just the way he teaches the mechanics and how he teaches pass concepts, how your feet need to match the route, I think it’s tops in the country.”
With Tagovailoa limited this spring with a broken throwing hand, Enos spent time working with Hurts, who has yet to develop as a passer.
Hurts struggled in the A-Day spring game, but Saban said he has seen Hurts make progress under Enos.
“I think it’s benefited (Jalen) to have Dan Enos be his quarterback coach,” Saban said. “I think he gets a lot more feedback more quickly because he had somebody just watching him, and I’m talking about fundamentals now.”
Given Enos’ past success with quarterbacks, Hurts might have the most to gain from him.
“He has a history of grabbing guys at their more mature times in their career when he was hired,” Bielema said. “There’s like 3 different stops at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and then at Michigan State where he had huge impacts. He’s just really, really good at quarterback fundamentals, and our guys really grew in a short amount of time.”
In his one season under Enos, Arkansas senior Brandon Allen improved his quarterback rating by 37½ points (129 to 166.5) from 2014 to 2015, saw a 50-percent increase in both passing yards (2,285 to 3,440) and passing touchdowns (20 to 30), and had a nearly 20-percent jump in completion percentage.
“Just the pure physical fundamental skills of playing quarterback were just growing in leaps and bounds (in that first season),” Bielema said. “And not just from reads and reactions, but the actual art of throwing, the footwork, the dynamics of each play on a given play just really, really grew (for Brandon).”
Austin Allen, Brandon’s younger brother, then took over in 2016 and nearly matched his 2015 performance as Arkansas’ junior starter, throwing 3,430 yard and 25 touchdowns with a 61-percent completion percentage.
“He demands respect and he got it from us Day 1 by how he talks about football, how much he knew,” Austin Allen said. “And then going out on the practice field, some of the drills we’d do, I’d never heard of those drills and how much better they got me in that first spring ball, fall camp with him. That summer I was with him, he got my arm speed up, things I’d never even thought about, he got me a lot better.”
Enos’ ability to refine and enhance a player’s best attributes has many believing Alabama’s new quarterback coach can take Hurts and Tagovailoa to the next level of their potential.
“I think in dealing with kids today, you’ve got to figure out who they are and what they can handle, and he does a great job of kind of molding that to every kid,” Bielema said. “He just maximizes talent so well, and I think he knows when to go hard, and when to put the arm around them. I think that’s really clear.”