Alabama's Lane Kiffin has gotten it all right in 2 years, so what happens next?
Among the many surprises for Alabama at the dawn of 2016, there is no bigger one than this:
Apparently Lane Kiffin is staying another season.
To be perfectly honest, when he arrived in Tuscaloosa two years ago to be Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator, many wondered how this was going to work. The pairing of the stern taskmaster and a wild free-spirit with the damaged reputation seems odd at best. Kiffin, without a doubt, traveled to Alabama with plenty of baggage.
His travails have been well documented. He’s been chased out of Oakland by the completely insane Al Davis, behaved like a spoiled brat at Tennessee before fleeing in the middle of the night, coached the 2012 Sun Bowl with a suspiciously large pair of sunglasses for no real reason – other than a possible severe hangover – and got fired as USC’s coach at Los Angeles International Airport after an embarrassing loss to Arizona State in 2013.
The clamor for Kiffin at any level of football simply didn’t exist when Saban decided to take a chance on the boy wonder.
Two seasons under Saban’s employ have flipped the script.
Not only is Alabama’s offense producing at heretofore unseen levels — with quarterbacks that are hardly first-rounders — but working under Saban has freed Kiffin from the weekly scrutiny of the media, since Saban assistants are allowed to talk to the media.
Even so, the marriage between Kiffin and Saban never seemed like a long-term commitment. Aside from their bizarre sideline interaction, Kiffin isn’t an original Saban dude like Kirby Smart, and seemed to only be staying in Tuscaloosa for as long as it took to rehabilitate himself to get himself another head coaching job somewhere.
So it is strange to think the man remains at The Capstone for the foreseeable future, particularly after an offseason that saw a number of high-profile jobs come open that seemed perfect for a guy like him.
For his part, Kiffin has demurred on the notion of becoming a head coach again in the near future.
“All I can control is improving as a coach, getting our players ready for games, continuing to learn from Coach Saban and whatever happens happens,” Kiffin said a few weeks ago in the buildup to the playoff semifinal game vs. Michigan State. “I have a great job, and any time there’s any thinking any different, I just remind myself how many people would want to be the offensive coordinator for Nick Saban. Take out the head coaching experience (I had) … If you’d have said you were going to work for Pete Carroll and Nick Saban before you’re 40 years old as their coordinators on very successful teams, you take that in a second.”
As for Kiffin’s future, much depends on which level of football he prefers to coach.
If he wants to stay in college football, he should make himself comfortable at Alabama. The relative lack of scrutiny is a good thing for him, because it severely limits the chance for him to put his foot in his mouth. He also can become a fairly wealthy man at Alabama — wealthier than he is already, anyway — because he’s getting paid well as an SEC coordinator. His stock should only continue to increase, given the toys that are continually at his disposal in Tuscaloosa.
There’s more, of course. If Kiffin has any inkling that his boss might retire or flee the premises any time in the near future, he should absolutely stay put. Given the success of his offenses over the past two seasons, he would certainly be a candidate to take the big job, if it became available.
But there is always the chance that Kiffin might want to go back to pro football, probably in the same role he now fills at Alabama. With his age and disposition, Kiffin may find that professional football is a better environment for him, and a place where he would have an easier time implementing his schemes.
If that is in play right now, the rumor mill has thus far been pretty quiet about it. Should it happen, Alabama fans could hardly begrudge Kiffin for taking the step.
Nobody really expected what’s happened the past two years here, anyway.