With Major Applewhite getting Houston job, Lane Kiffin-to-LSU narrative resumes ... for now
BATON ROUGE, La. — So, we’re back to Plan A, evidently.
With Houston’s somewhat surprising hiring of Major Applewhite as its head coach Friday morning, it seems that LSU is back to Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin as its likely offensive coordinator hire.
At least, for now.
Let’s review the past 24 hours and reset this thing.
Thursday morning, Kiffin was supposedly (according to USA Today) getting the Houston job. But other news sources were hearing that we all needed to pump the breaks on that report.
Meanwhile, everybody around Baton Rouge was preparing their “What’s next?” stories for LSU, speculating on everybody from Art Briles, to Pitt’s Matt Canada, to Steve Sarkisian, and to even Applewhite, as potential candidates for the LSU job.
Erase Applewhite, and keep those other names in the back pocket for now because it’s looking more like Kiffin could be the guy again.
Kiffin, if you recall, was widely considered the man Ed Orgeron had in mind when he got the LSU job Nov. 26. The two worked together before, first on Pete Carroll’s staff at USC, then when Kiffin hired Orgeron to be on his Tennessee and USC staffs. When Kiffin was fired at USC in 2013, Orgeron finished the year as the interim coach.
So early on, other names seemed merely like options to consider if Kiffin didn’t work out. Not that Orgeron and LSU weren’t vetting the potential candidates, but let’s face it, it looked to be Kiffin vs. the field.
What makes the story interesting is the narrative you keep hearing is that one place Kiffin will not be next year is Alabama. He’s had a fantastic three-year run there, but it seems like it hasn’t always been smooth between Kiffin and his boss, Nick Saban.
Makes sense because Kiffin’s abrasive reputation and Saban’s reputation for being notoriously difficult to work for.
Saban has openly lobbied for his offensive coordinator to get a head coaching opportunity. It makes sense because if he’s a head coach at Houston or South Florida, then Saban won’t have to coach against him. But if Kiffin chooses to accept a considerable pay raise to coach at LSU, then Alabama will have to go up against him every year.
So it seemed like a pretty solid endorsement from Saban. The message: We don’t get along well enough for me to keep him, but please don’t make me have to coach against him.
Saban might not get his way on that one.
With Houston choosing to stay in-staff with Applewhite, Kiffin appears to have two viable choices: Join Orgeron at LSU for probably close to $2 million a year (making him the highest-paid assistant coach in college football along with current LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda), or possibly replace Willie Taggart, the new head coach at Oregon, at his old job at South Florida.
But there’s a catch to that one. Reports are that former Texas coach Charlie Strong is in Tampa today and could be offered the job. It would be a good fit. The only thing Strong is guilty of in his career is failing to turn around Texas. He doesn’t come with the Kiffin baggage.
So here’s the carousel: Orgeron wants Kiffin, who wanted the Houston job because Texas fired Strong and hired Herman (who LSU also wanted as head coach). But Applewhite got the Houston job instead, so Kiffin will focus on South Florida, which he might not be able to get because Strong is now available (and, apparently, in town).
And if Houston had hired Kiffin, LSU may very well have hired Applewhite, who’s from Baton Rouge.
Is this an incestuous business, or what?
But maybe Kiffin will throw us all a curve ball — and maybe South Florida will put Strong on a plane without a contract and hire the former boy wonder (hey, he’s 41 now, that title no longer applies no matter how young he looks).
If so, where does LSU go?
It’s not too late to bring those names back out of the back pocket.
Briles: If LSU wants to make headlines, this will definitely make headlines, just not for all the right reasons. But if they want an offensive mastermind, Briles certainly is it.
Mark Helfrich: The former Oregon head coach knows offense. Hey, Kiffin is a failed head coach too. What a great place to rebuild your reputation, right?
Matt Canada: The Pittsburgh offensive coordinator has gained a lot of steam this year, leading a pretty good ACC offense.
Steve Sarkisian: He’s also a failed coach with a good offensive mind. He’s also out to rehabilitate his name, but alcohol is his problem, a path Orgeron has been down and can relate to. There’s a potential for a feel-good story, or a disaster.
The Big 12 bunch: From TCU’s Sonny Cumbie to Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma (whose name was tied to the Houston job), there’s speculation that Orgeron would go get one of the “basketball-on-grass” Mike Leach disciples who have turned the Big 12 on its ear.
That’s just a glance. Can we revisit this if Kiffin starts sniffing another direction again?