Enough is enough: Lane Kiffin needs to be a head coach again.
All he has done over the last three seasons is proof that he is one of the best coaches in the entire country; he’s transformed Alabama’s offense into a multidimensional, incredibly terrifying monster that is terrorizing the college football world.
The offensive coordinator of the Crimson Tide has been kept behind closed doors for two-and-a-half seasons, coming out to speak publicly once per offseason—per head coach Nick Saban‘s rules, during booster club events or as bowl agreements mandate.
During his public hiatus, he has walked softly and carried a big stick.
Alabama’s offense set a program record for total offense in 2014 with 484.5 yards per game, with a unit that featured Blake Sims—who once played running back in Tuscaloosa—taking the first-team snaps for the SEC champs.
Kiffin followed it up with a national championship and a Heisman Trophy winner in 2015 (running back Derrick Henry), all while developing then-senior Jake Coker at quarterback after Coker couldn’t beat Sims out the year before.
“Lane has done a really good job of bringing our guys along, sort of doing what they can do, adapting to the players that we have extremely well, which he has done,” Saban said after the 49-10 win over Tennessee, according to UTSports.com. “Each year we’ve been here, we’ve had a different type of guy playing the quarterback position. We’ve been able to adapt, and I think systematically now we are a lot further along from where we were before.”
Kiffin’s third act is better than the first two.
According to CFBStats.com, Alabama currently averages 504.7 yards per game, 7.0 yards per play, has the most plays of 40 or more yards in the country (19) and is sixth nationally in scoring (45.4 points per game). All that while only being tested in one full game (Ole Miss), trotting players out for mop-up duty in the second half on a consistent basis and starting a true freshman at quarterback in Jalen Hurts.
Hurts rushed for 132 yards and three touchdowns against Tennessee, passed for 143 more and, as Bleacher Report’s Christopher Walsh wrote after the game, crept into the periphery of the Heisman Trophy race.
“Obviously, his ability to run is something that gives defenses a lot of problems,” Saban said, per UTSports.com. “If we can continue to improve in the passing game because of the level of skill guys that we have, I think that would be something that would make a big impact on what we can do offensively.”
How has Hurts been so good? Kiffin has limited the routes the young QB has to examine mid-play, rolled him out to avoid pressure, allowed him to use his athleticism when receivers aren’t open and properly determined and exploited a defense’s weakness. Against Tennessee, according to ESPN Stats & Info (via ESPN.com’s David Ching), that was the read-option.
What do some of the teams with high-profile job openings—or potential openings—need?
Offense. A lot of it, and in a hurry.
LSU’s ultra-conservative offense and former head coach Les Miles‘ inability to adapt to modern football were the two primary reasons he was let go after a 2-2 start this year.
Oregon’s inability to develop a homegrown quarterback has hampered the program for two seasons, forced current head coach Mark Helfrich to go the FCS-graduate-transfer route and has contributed to the regression to anonymity for the Ducks.
Or what about Notre Dame? At 2-5, Brian Kelly‘s crew is one of college football’s biggest disappointments after being picked by some—present company included—to make the College Football Playoff. It’s unlikely Kelly will be shown the door, but a few more losses might change minds in a hurry if he doesn’t gain control of an offense that severely lacks an identity.
Kiffin is in the final year of a three-year deal as the Crimson Tide offensive coordinator and certainly will be mentioned for some lower-tier Power Five and vacant Group of Five jobs this winter.
He’s not going to stay at any of those places long. He deserves bigger and better based on his ability to develop quarterbacks, diagnose and attack a defense’s weaknesses, recruit at a high level and create mismatches before the snap.
His recruiting prowess will likely keep him in college, but suitors might also have to deal with NFL teams who undoubtedly have noticed the work Kiffin has done over the last two-plus years building the Tide offense into a multidimensional power.
So go get him now.
Decision-makers at high-profile schools in search of an offensive boost need to be bold. They need to be smart. They need to understand that even if coaches don’t have a stellar track record from a public relations perspective, the best coaches learn from their mistakes.
Kiffin made a few mistakes, but he also has solidified himself as one of the best offensive minds in the country since—doing so under the wing of the Saban, who has made a career out of making sure everybody within his program buys into the process.
Who cares that Kiffin failed under trying circumstances post-NCAA sanctions at USC? It was a difficult situation with massive roster limitations that would challenge even the most accomplished head coaches.
Who cares that he left Tennessee high and dry, ran afoul with the NCAA at times and got into it with former Florida and current Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer? Should that banish him from the head coaching role for life?
Of course not.
Three years under Saban is more than enough time for Kiffin to reinvent himself as Lane 2.0: an outspoken, offensive genius who has been properly Sabanized, has more control of a football program and has a greater attention to detail that Saban—his current boss—is known for.
If you’re in need of an offensive boost, why wouldn’t you take a chance on Kiffin being more disciplined in his next life as a college head coach?
Fear of being wrong?
Saban took that risk when he welcomed Kiffin to Tuscaloosa with open arms in January 2014, and it has paid off in the form of back-to-back SEC titles, two trips to the College Football Playoff and a national championship.
Taking another risk on Kiffin should pay similar dividends to whichever program is willing to roll the dice.
Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information is courtesy of Scout.com. Odds provided by Odds Shark.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
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