TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Cyrus Kouandjio wasn't bitter when he heard his position coach was leaving Alabama this offseason. The Crimson Tide's hulking left tackle was surprised when he saw offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland had accepted a position with the Philadelphia Eagles, but he wasn't disappointed with the news. After all, one day he'll be off to the NFL, too.
"I'm proud," Kouandjio explained. "I texted him that morning. It's the best thing in the world to be recognized. He's a really great coach and I feel happy for him that he's been recognized by an NFL team."
If Kouandjio continues on this path, he could have his own name called by a professional franchise soon. NFL draft analysts have said that he would have been a first-round pick this year if he were eligible.
That speculation will have its day, maybe a year from now, maybe in 2015. In the meantime, Kouandjio and the Alabama offensive line are in transition. With Stoutland gone, they are getting to know their new position coach, Mario Cristobal.
Cristobal, 42, is nearly a decade younger than his predecessor. Stoutland was no slouch, but Crisotbal is another level of energetic. He's ambitious, upbeat and inspiring -- traits that landed him Florida International's top coaching job at the early age of 36. His practices are uptempo and his coaching style is hands-on. He has already made his mark on the recruiting trail in South Florida, and now he's making an impact at Alabama during spring practice.
"I think the players like him," Alabama coach Nick Saban said of Cristobal, one of three position coaches he hired this offseason. "He’s done a good job teaching them. He’s got good energy and enthusiasm. He brings some new ideas. That’s always welcome when you have new coaches join the staff."
Said Kouandjio, regarding the difference between Cristobal and Stoutland: "I mean it’s kind of early to say, but they’re both good coaches. They’re both really technical coaches. They’re really down with the little things. They both push you and are really high-energy coaches. I mean you have to be a high-energy coach to coach the O-line because that’s the one position on the field where you can’t get lazy."
Cristobal won't have the opportunity to sit on his hands, especially this year as he must find a way to replace three starters on the offensive line: All-SEC performers D.J. Fluker, Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack.
So far, Kouandjio said they're "doing pretty good."
"There’s always room for improvement and the sky’s the limit for us. ... We have a lot of different characters on the offensive line right now, and, we’ll be all right."
Saban said the transition has been smooth thus far.
"So everything about this so far from a transition standpoint has been positive," he said. "But that’s a work in progress, too. Consistency in performance over the long haul is what’s going to be important to helping us develop and helping our staff develop, as well."