VOL. 131 | NO. 211 | Friday, October 21, 2016
Kiffin’s Coaching Rehab Drives Vols Fans to Drink
BY DAVID CLIMER
Based on the events last weekend at Neyland Stadium, I think it’s safe to say the rehabilitation process is almost complete for Lane Kiffin.
Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin walks off the field after his team soundly defeated UT on Saturday in Knoxville.
(AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Among the most notable things in Alabama’s total domination of Tennessee was the way Kiffin pulled the strings as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator. He kept posing questions for which the Vols’ defense had no answers.
It was Kiffin’s second successful trip to the visitors’ sideline at Neyland Stadium. In addition to his input to the lopsided victory, Kiffin left without serious incident. In 2014, his Crimson Tide offense scored on its first play and wound up with 469 yards and 34 points in a blowout of the Vols.
On Saturday, Kiffin outdid himself.
The way things are going in Kiffin’s third season of calling plays for the Tide, it is only a matter of time before somebody gives him yet another shot as a head coach despite his past failings in that role. Why? Because if you are deemed worthy of being hired by Saban and can hold up under his domineering style, you’re well on the road to recovery.
For years, Kiffin somehow managed to move up the coaching ladder despite a resume that was lacking. It certainly helped that he is the son of NFL defensive guru Monte Kiffin.
Really, though, how do you go from an offensive coordinator at Southern Cal to head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2007 at the ripe old age of 32?
After getting fired at Oakland, he landed on his feet as head coach at Tennessee in 2009. He had just gone 7-6 with the Vols when Southern Cal came calling in January 2010. To this point, he is much better at getting jobs than keeping them.
Kiffin’s emergence as a prime head coaching candidate once again probably doesn’t sit well with Tennessee fans, many of whom continue to hold a grudge for Kiffin’s abrupt exit as Vols head coach in January 2010.
Not only did Kiffin spurn Tennessee for what he called his “dream job” at Southern Cal, he left UT with few legitimate hiring options. Vols higher-ups picked the worst of a bad lot by selecting Derek Dooley.
On the other hand, it is probably in UT’s best interest if Kiffin moves on. Watching the way Kiffin managed freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts and all those other weapons last Saturday, I’m not sure the Vols want to face another Kiffin-coached offense at Alabama.
It’s as if Kiffin has a new toy. He’s never coached a quarterback quite like Hurts. What Hurts lacks as a passer he more than makes up for with his mobility. And Kiffin knows how to maximize his unique skill set.
Against the Vols, Hurts threw for 143 yards and a touchdown while running for 132 yards and three more TDs. All told, the Tide piled up 594 total yards.
It’s been quite a ride for Kiffin. He was fired during his fourth season as coach at Southern Cal in 2013. At that point, a once-promising career went on hold. After so much job-hopping and so many controversies, he seemed untouchable.
His best option: coaching rehab.
Look, there’s alcohol rehab, drug rehab, even sex rehab (remember Tiger Woods?), so why not coaching rehab? What’s good for politicians, televangelists and entertainers should also work for coaches.
And if you’re trying to rehab and regain footing in your chosen profession, what better place than on Nick Saban’s staff?
It takes two to rehab, so Saban had to be on board. He is. While he was acutely aware of Kiffin’s flaws and shortcomings, Saban recognized the upside. Saban has his own agenda. He wants to win national championships. He saw Kiffin as a means toward that end.
Saban had been a fan of Kiffin for quite some time. He tried to hire him in 2007. Later, Saban praised Kiffin after the 2009 Alabama-Tennessee game when Kiffin’s overmatched Vols almost upset eventual national champion Tide in Tuscaloosa.
Even so, many eyebrows were raised when Saban hired Kiffin. Saban is a control freak. Kiffin is a loose cannon. Why bring in an assistant coach who could be a distraction?
Question: When was the last time an Alabama assistant was a distraction? Saban does not permit distractions on his coaching staff. Kiffin’s penchant for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and picking fights with rivals is not permitted on Saban’s watch.
Beyond that, Alabama assistants are seldom seen and almost never heard. Saban lets assistant coaches speak to the media only twice a season – before the start of training camp and during bowl preparations.
And then there are the Xs and Os. Saban is a fan of Kiffin’s offense – although it’s sometimes hard to tell. TV cameras have captured a few sideline scenes where Saban appeared to be dressing down Kiffin. It’s clear who’s in charge.
There was no such give-and-take in Alabama’s most recent trip to Neyland Stadium. After a little feeling-out process to see how Tennessee was going to defend a freshman quarterback, Kiffin started pushing all the right buttons.
It certainly helps that Kiffin operates with a wide margin for error. His offense doesn’t have to score all the points. In the bludgeoning of Tennessee, the Tide scored touchdowns on an interception return and a punt return.
Moving forward, Alabama’s push toward yet another berth in the College Football Playoff will bring greater visibility to Kiffin. In time, he likely will prove to be irresistible for an athletics director in search of a fresh start with a head coach who has a flair for putting up big offensive numbers.
What happens then?
Coaching genius that he is, Saban already has a succession plan in place. He hired Steve Sarkisian and installed him in the position of “offensive analyst.” Like Kiffin, Sarkisian is a former Southern Cal head coach. While Kiffin’s USC team failed on the field, Sarkisian got canned because it became clear he was a functioning alcoholic.
Now Sarkisian is the one enrolled in coaching rehab at Alabama. Upon Kiffin’s exit from Tuscaloosa, look for Sarkisian to succeed him.
At that point, Alabama’s offense will not miss a beat.
Reach David Climer at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DavidClimer.