In an ideal world, Lane Kiffin would not be in Tuscaloosa. He would still be at his “dream job” as the head coach of the University of Southern California not spending his time as the offensive coordinator at Alabama.
The man who was hired by Alabama head coach Nick Saban to change the Crimson Tide’s offense has been making the most of his new position.
“I always thought this would be a great opportunity if it ever presented itself somehow,” Kiffin said in August, the only time Alabama coordinators speak to the media. “I think the more you can learn from more people, the better you can become as a head coach.”
The decision, which was an unpopular one given Kiffin’s controversy and his recent airport firing from USC, has paid off for Saban. In Kiffin’s first year as the offensive coordinator, the team is averaging nearly 50 more total yards per game and has already run 46 more plays than it did all of last year with at least two games remaining in the season.
“He brings a lot of energy,” Alabama center Ryan Kelly said. “He is a great offensive mastermind … He has all the confidence in all 11 guys he has out there on offense. To play for a guy like that is great, and it builds a momentum for the offense the entire game.”
Alabama’s Kiffin-led offense has put up 40 or more points in six games this year and tied the record for most points by a single team in the Iron Bowl with 55. The coach has also helped build a strong Heisman candidacy for wide receiver Amari Cooper. Cooper is currently second nationally in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns and third in receptions this season.
Despite their differing personalities and the fact that the cameras always seem to find Saban yelling at Kiffin, the head coach insisted earlier this year they have never had a bad relationship.
“I mean, if I did what you all thought when I hired the guy, he wouldn’t even be here,” Saban said. “Maybe that was the assumption because nobody thought it was a good hire that all of a sudden something bad. I don’t know. I thought it was a good hire. Nobody else did. Now, I got beat up like a drum and now all of a sudden it’s great.”
Kiffin, a Broyles Award finalist, wasn’t brought in to completely change the Crimson Tide’s offense but just to revamp it. He is a big reason why the team is in prime position for a berth in the first-ever College Football Playoff. When the defense doesn’t play its best, which has happened multiple times this year, the offense now has the ability to outscore opposing teams as it did in the 55-44 comeback win over Auburn.
“Now, we have more skill players that are good perimeter players on offense and I think we are doing what we need to do offense to take advantage of that,” Saban said. “Lane does a really, really good job of taking advantage of what players can do.”