The Kiffin Hire: I Like It!

Me: Were we that desperate for Monte Kiffin’s input?

Captain: No, Saban is thinking about the staff lake party.

And with that text message exchange, the debate over the Lane Kiffin hire began.

Let me get the suspense out of the way; I like the hire. The text messages above were delivered and received in jest. I like the hire for several reasons.

I’ve never owned an NFL team nor have I been the athletic director at a FBS school (or any school for that matter), but in my unqualified opinion, Lane Kiffin was never ready to be a head coach. He certainly wasn’t ready to be the head coach on some of the larger stages in football; Oakland, Knoxville, and Los Angeles.

I find it ridiculous that people would argue that it wasn’t a good hire because Kiffin failed as a head coach. Ellis Johnson put the Southern Miss program in a tailspin from which they still haven’t recovered but, after the season that Auburn had, people are ready to crown him Guru de Defensive Genius.

What an incredible opportunity for Lane Kiffin to take a small step backward, return to doing something that he is good at – being a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator – and learn to be a head coach from, arguably, one of the best coaches in the business. What kind of dividends could this job pay for Kiffin IF he sticks with the program for three years? Do you think he’s better prepared in three years to be a head coach? I do. If he’s not, then he’s the sophomoric disaster that all non-Alabama fans (and, honestly, some Alabama fans) believe him to be.

I’ve heard people say that it’s a bad hire because of Kiffin’s big ego. To the contrary, that he would accept a coordinator position instead of lobbying for the Vandy job, or some other head coaching job is, I believe, an indication that Kiffin may have taken a bite of humble pie.

Now, he wasn’t going to be the offensive coordinator at Middle North State University, but make no mistake, from Head Coach at USC to OC at Alabama is a step backward. Additionally, do you think those 4-star and 5-star recruits that Saban brings in every year have egos? Alabama signed top running back after top running back after top running back last year – and all of them can’t carry the football. Ego management is what Saban does.

Kiffin will also be allowed to coach, and learn to coach, in peace – at least public peace. The coaching staff meetings may get critical, but that will stay behind closed doors. The thing about Saban’s staff is that Kiffin will never (well, rarely) get the opportunity to look like a twit at a press conference. I’m sure that CBS will have a camera trained on Kiffin’s face during the game, looking for the slightest twitch of brat-like behavior, but this is the most protected staff in college football. Like it or not.

I think that it is a tremendous opportunity for Kiffin. The upside for Alabama is a little harder to ascertain. To be clear, though, Doug Nussmeier to Michigan was not a loss for Alabama. In Auburn’s last four games, the only team to not score 30 points against Auburn was….Alabama.

“Well, if we’d have made those field goals, we’d have scored more than 30!”

Yes, and had we scored touchdowns, we wouldn’t have had to rely on our field goal kickers. I was not a fan of Doug Nussmeier. Something was wrong with the Alabama offense this year. As I mentioned in a post after the Sugar Bowl, the offense lacked an identity. I hope that the problem was Nussmeier.

I don’t think Alabama took a step back with the hiring of Lane Kiffin. As coordinator and play caller under Pete Carroll at USC, Kiffin’s offense had two 1,000 yard rushers and a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback. His offenses struggled once he took head coaching responsibilities, an indication that, as with large corporations, one person cannot do everything. You have to hand some of the reins to someone else. Kiffin was the head coach, but he wanted to run the offense. I don’t think that, at the highest levels of football, that is possible.

Mr. and Mrs. Kiffin
Mr. and Mrs. Kiffin

Though he left Knoxville in a hurry (have you ever been to Knoxville?), in his short time there, he proved to be an effective recruiter. Some of his tactics may have been a bit questionable, but he brought in a good recruiting class to a program that was in flames when he arrived (and when he left).

He’s a good recruiter, a good offensive mind, and – if he and Saban can keep his ego in check – this could be a very good hire for Alabama.

You can usually gauge a hire by the response from your opponents. The only Alabama coach that other SEC fans ever liked was Mike Shula (maybe Mike Dubose). One thing is certain, the staff party at Saban’s lake house just got a lot more scenic.


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