Lane Kiffin just keeps falling up. The man is immune to gravity.
After a good stint as an offensive assistant at Southern Cal under Pete Carroll, Kiffin landed the head coaching job of the Oakland Raiders. When he flamed out there in less than two years — and let’s face it, Al Davis wasn’t the best at picking players those last few years — he parlayed his ouster into the head coaching job at Tennessee.
Kiffin provided a blueprint to then-Vol athletic director Mike Hamilton of how to turn UT into USC. That earned him the position. But just a year later — after a half dozen other coaches declined offers to replace Carroll in LA — Kiffin took a left turn from UT to USC. His mouth had gotten him into trouble even before he traded kudzu for Palm trees. The national media would remember his talk and his actions. He would get no breaks while coaching the Trojans.
In three years — with a roster absolutely annihilated by NCAA sanctions — Kiffin’s star quickly dimmed. And everyone from rival fans to members of the Fourth Estate seemed to enjoy the loudmouth’s downfall, especially the fact that Kiffin was unceremoniously dumped at LAX midseason. The fact that Ed Orgeron turned things around, changed the mood inside the program, and went 6-2 down the stretch as USC’s interim coach only made Kiffin look more buffoonish. (Don’t go buying those Orgeron-to-Alabama rumors, by the way).
But Kiffin did something smart — finally — after his firing from Southern Cal. He zipped his lips. Rather than hurl mud back at the Trojans or cry about the way he was 86′d at an airport and left to find his own ride home, Kiffin laid low. He supported Orgeron via social media.
Then a month ago he was surprisingly brought in to Tuscaloosa to talk offense with Nick Saban and his assistants. And when Doug Nussmeier left for Michigan — hmmm — Kiffin was hired to replace him as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. So much for walking in the wilderness. Kiffin’s resume reads Southern Cal, Oakland Raiders, Tennessee, Southern Cal again and Alabama back to back to back. There are coaches who go their whole entire careers dreaming of working at just one of those places. Kiffin’s worked at them all despite hurting his reputation at three of them.
So Saban’s hire of Kiffin is major mistake, right? ”The Process” is now in danger, correct? There are cracks in Bama’s foundation. Auburn’s national title has left Saban so desperate for new blood that he’s reaching. Right?
We don’t think so. Kiffin hasn’t been perfect but he has shown a pretty good offensive mind over the years. He’s called plays for championship teams, an NFL team and an SEC team. He’s worked with some good quarterbacks and he’s turned around some struggling ones. Granted, his wishy-washy flip-flopping of QBs at Southern Call this past year won’t be added to any “How to Coach Quarterbacks” book, but all guys have bad years. Example: The Norv Turners and Kevin Gilbrides and Bill Callahans of the NFL have bounced around through ups and downs for years. They’re not always perfect, but they know enough about offenses and play-calling to keep getting hired. Kiffin hasn’t forgotten what he’s learned along the way.
Two things make us believe this Kiffin/Bama marriage will actually work out fine. First, even though he’ll have to break in a new quarterback this spring and fall, Kiffin will inherit one of the five most talented rosters in the country. And unlike in Los Angeles, this time he’ll have depth galore. Our view? It’d be hard for anyone to screw up Alabama’s offense with all those 4- and 5-star guys running around.
Second, Kiffin’s worst enemy over time has proven to be his own big mouth. On Saban’s staff, he’ll be forced to put a sock in it. Alabama’s assistants are allowed to speak to the press on rare occasions. And that should be the best thing in the world for Kiffin. Even when he’s set to return to Tennessee this fall for the first time since nuking the Vol program, Saban will likely keep him off limits to the press. Why feed what could become a major distraction and sideshow? Protected from his own voice box, Kiffin might just parlay this rehab stint in Tuscaloosa into his next head coaching job.
Jim McElwain served as Saban’s offensive coordinator from 2008 through 2011. Then he landed his first head coaching gig at Colorado State in 2012. He already led the Rams to a bowl game in 2013. That, too, works in Kiffin’s favor.
Kiffin has already been a head coach in the pros and in the college game. He’s led two of the biggest programs in the country. If he succeeds in leading Alabama’s offense doesn’t it stand to reason that some other school will bank on his turnaround and hire him to lead their program? And it probably won’t take four years to land such a gig if the Crimson Tide continue to compete for SEC and national championships.
Now, Kiffin will definitely be under more scrutiny than any other offensive coordinator in the country. Every failed third-down call will result in camera shots of the coaches booth (which really won’t be fair). But if Bama wins big, Kiffin will win big. And with his big mouth closed and Saban’s stockpile of talent, both Kiffin and the Tide should win big.
Face it, the guy continues to fall uphill.