ATLANTA — Lane Kiffin stood on the 30-yard line of the Georgia Dome as streamers and confetti fell from the sky, the Alabama band blared out “Rammer Jammer” for what seemed like the 10th time since the final whistle of the SEC Championship Game and he said more with his actions than his words.
The mere fact that the third-year Alabama offensive coordinator would talk with a group of about 10 of us for eight or nine minutes following his team’s third straight SEC title spoke volumes, considering head coach Nick Saban‘s policy that prevents assistant coaches from speaking publicly except for once during fall camp, at award ceremonies and as required by bowl games.
Kiffin showed humility and maturity when asked if he’d be back in the same building for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl national semifinal less than a month from now.
“Yeah, I hope so,” he said. “If they’ll have me.”
That last part is important, because there are enough moving parts in the Kiffin drama to derail the Crimson Tide’s title run during a critical time for the development of the offense.
The most pressing issue is at Houston.
Kiffin is high on the list for the job vacated by Tom Herman, according to ESPN’s Brett McMurphy. The other candidates mentioned—former LSU head coach Les Miles, Cougars defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite—don’t pack as mean of a punch as Kiffin.
Getting this job would likely be preferable for Saban and the development of the offense.
“He wants to be a head coach,” Saban said after the SEC Championship Game. “I want him to be a head coach. I want to help him to get a head coaching job. The rest of it, we have not discussed, and I don’t think it’s the right time. Maybe the right time will be sometime in the next couple weeks, but right now, we’re focusing on him trying to get a head coaching job.”
If he gets that job, it would allow Kiffin to do exactly what former Tide defensive coordinator and current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart did at this time last year: stick around during bowl prep and double-dip at Houston.
The Cougars and Tide don’t play in the same recruiting neighborhood, so Kiffin keeping control of the offensive wheel during a critical time for true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts will help his progression. Houston having its new head coach playing a big role in a national title run for Alabama would be great publicity, and Kiffin proving that he’s responsible enough to work two jobs at once would show that he’s grown up from his less mature days as Tennessee and USC.
Everybody would win on the surface. Former USC and Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian—who worked with Kiffin on USC’s staff under Pete Carroll—could slide from his analyst role at Alabama right into Kiffin’s spot running the Tide offense.
But what if Kiffin wants Sarkisian on his Houston staff? Then Alabama could be in real trouble during Hurts’ first camp-like setting as the unquestioned starting quarterback.
If Kiffin doesn’t get the Houston job, things might get a bit dicey.
He’s the primary target for the offensive coordinator job under new full-time LSU head coach Ed Orgeron, according to Ross Dellenger of The Advocate.
It’s easy to say that he could follow the same path as Smart did last year, but this would be an entirely different situation.
The two would be taking different roles, Orgeron would probably want Kiffin around during his own bowl preparation and Kiffin making what would be a lateral move on the surface for a division rival is much more of a slap in the face to Alabama than it was for Smart to get a better job in the opposite division.
“It depends on the circumstance and the situation,” Saban said of coaching changes during bowl prep. “I think those are things that people have to agree on relative to what their goals and aspirations are, the circumstance and situation that they’re in, their commitment to our players and our team, and do we think it’s going to affect our organization long-term.”
There’s a fine line with this Kiffin situation.
It’s clear all parties agree that Saban should be the one making the decision on what Kiffin’s role will be with the Crimson Tide over the next month if and when he gets another job.
From Saban’s perspective, he has to weigh what’s best for the development of his offense that not only includes Hurts, but a young running back in Damien Harris, freshman tackle in Jonah Williams and the challenge of an uber-talented Washington secondary waiting for Alabama in the Peach Bowl.
For Kiffin, being a team player and acquiescing to Saban’s wishes would prove his maturity, which would help him not only reassure his new bosses that he’s a changed man, but help him change his image in the minds of possible future employers.
For the time being, Kiffin is focused on the immediate future where he currently draws a paycheck.
“I’m not worried about that,” he said. “I want to keep winning these next two games. I think it’d be really special. I think what we’re able to do [winning three straight SEC titles] for the first time in 20 years is really special. Nowadays, to be able to do that, is really hard. Obviously, coach Saban has put us in position to do that.”
How long his focus is there remains to be seen. How the logistics are worked through could have a big impact on the Crimson Tide’s offensive development and preparation for the semifinal.
Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats unless otherwise noted.
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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