Why did Alabama Coach Nick Saban hire Lane Kiffin?
By The Conduit
My number-one rule of college football is everyone loses football games; it’s how you lose and what you do afterwards that matters. Any fan that can understand this will have a lot more fun watching college football.
My number-two rule is you don’t get to choose your coaches. At Alabama, both of these rules are seemingly more relevant than ever.
If I said many Alabama fans would never have picked Nick Saban to be their head coach, would you say I’m crazy?
What if I asked the same question when Nick Saban was the head coach at LSU? Before Saban, LSU was a program whose football team gave Alabama fans throwaway homecoming weekend football victories for years. There were many Alabama fans at the time who were more excited about Shula than they would have been for Saban. I was probably one of them. Most of us probably knew an Alabama fan or two who were still leery when Saban was hired to coach the Crimson Tide.
In hindsight, Mal Moore absolutely knew what he was doing and hired the best coach in the modern college football era, Nick Saban.
Since then, Saban has hired staff and recruited players at the University of Alabama as he sees best. I didn’t know anything about Kirby Smart before, now he’s probably the most well-known defensive coordinator in the sport. I didn’t think AJ McCarron was Alabama’s next starting quarterback after seeing him compete against Phillip Sims at A-Day game a few years ago, and boy was I wrong about that one, too.
So is it that hard to believe the recent hire of Lane Kiffin as Alabama’s offensive coordinator is a good thing?
It might even be a monumental hire in hindsight.
Kiffin may have been the best head coach at Tennessee since Fulmer, but being fired from the top spot at Southern California doesn’t mean he’s a failure. By the same token, having Sarkezian and Carroll on the title-winning staff at USC when Kiffin was the OC for the Trojans doesn’t mean he’s talentless at the role. After all, you don’t get three consecutive legendary head coaching jobs in a row for doing nothing. Nussmeier was no slouch by any means whatsoever, but his coordinating choices are still different from Kiffin’s, and that may be the point.
What we do know is Kiffin isn’t like Saban.
Yes, he skirted the rules in the past at Tennessee; argue about whether he’s a bad guy or not, but that obviously isn’t what he was hired for (he’ll be under a microscope at the Capstone regardless). Yet the fundamental difference between his decision-making abilities and Saban’s must represent part of the reason he was considered for the coordinator position.
In other words, Saban isn’t just hiring new staff with different mindsets than have been successful before, but he’s also recruiting talent with different skill sets than in the past, particularly with quicker players behind the defensive line. It’s been several years since Kiffin was the offensive coordinator at Southern California, but his skill set is one of many new ingredients Saban’s mixing together for what looks like an exciting renovation to the Crimson Tide.
Speaking of Southern California, the Trojans have a new defensive line coach, Bo Davis, coming in from Texas. Well, at least they did, until Alabama asked him to come to Tuscaloosa. A week after being introduced at USC, Davis is instead headed to the Capstone. Davis will help Alabama’s defensive line better understand and prepare for playing against the hurry-up-no-huddle style offense, having been a coach in the Big 12 where high-scoring and fast-paced offenses are more the norm. I’d be remiss if I also didn’t point out Alabama’s former d-line coach, Chris Rumph, is essentially trading spots with Bo Davis at Texas.
The bottom line is change is always constant in college football, and this time it seems to be more deliberately orchestrated by Saban than ever before.
We’ve seen the posters for the consecutive losses and the “guarantee” of getting the same result if Alabama doesn’t change. The attrition of talent is impossible to avoid; players graduate or turn pro regardless of eligibility rules. Coaches and coordinators too can change just as frequently or, as at Alabama, even more quickly. Did Colorado State “steal” Jim McElwain? Did Michigan do the same with Doug Nussmeier? The answers depend on who you ask, but it’s hard to argue the University of Alabama didn’t help itself this offseason. But if Saban himself is in charge of all these changes, who thinks they’ll be able to predict them and use that as a competitive advantage? Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if most people struggle just to keep up, including me. I can’t wait.
National Signing Day is right around the corner. Alabama isn’t just poised for a top recruiting class (again), but they’re towering above even the closest teams on the recruiting battlefield. Alabama didn’t get everyone, but Saban has put together another strong class. Everything I’ve heard about the coaching changes from incoming recruits and existing players has been positive, if not gleaming.
Change is coming, and so is Alabama. Roll Tide.