Alex Mortensen didn't choose to leave Alabama. He decided to come to UAB.
There's a difference.
For eight football seasons, the 37-year-old Mortensen played his role in a program at the top of college football. He served as a graduate assistant from 2014-16 and an offensive analyst, working with the quarterbacks from 2017 to this past season. The quarterbacks he coached, and in most cases was a big part of the recruitment, included current NFL starters Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones and Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young.
He had opportunities to move on to jobs in college football and the NFL. Each time, he chose to stay -- until Trent Dilfer came calling after being hired as UAB's head coach in December. Mortensen decided to join Dilfer's first staff as the offensive coordinator.
"I'd bet you Alex Mortensen goes down as one of the best staff hires in the country this year," Dilfer said soon after the hire. "Everybody tried to hire Alex from Nick Saban for the last 7-8 years. Why he chose me, I don't know."
Before answering that question, it's important to understand why he chose to remain as an Alabama analyst for so many seasons.
"I loved my role at Alabama," Mortensen said. "It grew over time. I loved the people I worked with and worked for. I think the other thing about Alabama is you have a phenomenal head coach who you are going to learn from every day. On top of that, the people underneath him, it's an interesting place because there is change. There are coaches coming in and out. You're always going to learn from your head coach, and then, because of the turnover at some other spots, it's like you're getting multitudes of experience at one place without having to move around and go work for a bunch of different people and different organizations. You kind of get that there. I also think Coach Saban, even with all the success he's had, he encourages curiosity and encourages research. I just felt like that to learn I didn't need to leave."
So why choose this particular opportunity?
"This job with Coach Dilfer and UAB, this one did feel compelling," Mortensen said. "I was really excited to go work for Coach Dilfer. I think he's got a big vision. I think he's a great leader. On top of that, UAB is a neat place because I think the last coaching staff did a really good job there. I think there is a foundation in place. I think there is a lot to sell at UAB. You always talk about recruiting radius. You draw five hours around Birmingham. I think there are a lot of good players. This one was compelling enough for me to say, I think it's time to go do this."
December was a challenging month for Mortensen. His commitment to finishing his job in Tuscaloosa, helping prepare for the Crimson Tide's Sugar Bowl win over Kansas State, took up some of his time. Recruiting and handling duties at UAB took up some of his time. Adding some more hours to the day, unfortunately, wasn't an option.
Now, he's focused solely on the latest stop in a coaching career that was born at a young age. In fact, long before, he was a college quarterback at Arkansas and Samford.
"My parents used to joke, and we used to laugh about it, but a lot of my school notebooks, I'd still take notes but maybe next to the notes, there were a few football plays drawn up here and there," said Mortensen, whose father, Chris, is a longtime sports journalist and ESPN NFL reporter/analyst. "It is something that I wanted to do for a while."
His first coaching job came in 2012 at New Mexico Highlands, where he was quarterback coach and passing game coordinator.
"I had a blast doing that," Mortensen said. "That probably solidified it. I think I've always been intrigued with the strategies of the game, the competitive elements of it."
He worked with the NFL's St. Louis Rams in 2013 before beginning his time at Alabama. In 2019, he served briefly with the AAF Birmingham Iron. He blossomed in Alabama in a role that transformed over the years.
"Alex has had massive success at the University of Alabama training some of the finest quarterbacks the country has seen," Dilfer said in a UAB press release. "He was an integral part of Coach Saban's offensive staff. I have known him to become one of the brightest young minds in the game. He is someone who has a gift of teaching ball and making it invigorating for young people."
Now, it's time for a new role at UAB. While recruiting takes up a bulk of the time, at least until the first Wednesday in February, Mortensen looks forward to the next step.
"I can't wait to go coach on the field with our guys and really get going in the meeting room," Mortensen said. "I think both are really important. They're both opportunities to teach. The thing I probably enjoy most about coaching is working with the players."
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