Alabama announced over the weekend that it has retained Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator, a decision that triggered sighs of relief from Crimson Tide fans and simultaneously, cheers of joy from San Francisco 49er faithful. Kiffin had been a top candidate for the 49ers newly vacated OC position according to many NFL experts, but the Tide did what was necessary make sure the controversial coach stayed in Tuscaloosa.
— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) January 24, 2015
In a statement released on Twitter, head coach Nick Saban sang Kiffin’s praises, speaking to just how important Kiffin is to Bama’s continued offensive success:
“We’re very pleased and happy that Lane is going to be staying here at the University of Alabama with us. He’s done a fabulous job and is one of the finest offensive coaches in the country. He is going to have plenty of opportunities in the future and we want to continue to help him develop as a coach so when he leaves here, he’ll be in a very good situation. Our offense was extremely productive last season and we look forward to building on some of the good things we did on that side of the ball with this year’s team.”
While this might cause an eye-roll from the most adamant of Kiffin haters, it illuminates something that is increasingly hard to argue about the mercurial coach: he might not be head coach material, but he’s a heck of an assistant coach.
Because of the visibility of the head coaching stint he’s had (Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Volunteers and USC Trojans), it’s easy to conflate Kiffin the Head Coach with Kiffin the Coordinator. In reality though, they are two entirely different people.
Kiffin the Head Coach has proven to be ill-equipped at dealing with the media, at juggling game-day responsibilities of calling plays and managing players and at leading a program in a way that inspires confidence in his leadership Kiffin the Coordinator however, in charge of just running one unit, has been quite successful.
Just this past season at Alabama, Kiffin helped groom first-year starting quarterback Blake Sims, who completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 3,487 yards and 28 touchdowns. Additionally, wide receiver Amari Cooper had an incredible season: he hauled in 124 passes, an SEC single-season record) for 1,727 yards and 16 scores.
Neither of those stat lines are anything to scoff at.
As a team, the Crimson Tide were 16th in points per game (36.9) and earned 340 first downs, up from 302 in 2013. They were more efficient in the red zone — successful 85.94% of the time in 2014, and improvement from 79.63% the year before –and on third downs, converting 51.26% of their attempts versus 47.62%.
Moral of the story: The Crimson Tide rolled opponents just as efficiently under Kiffin as it did under Doug Nussmeier in the year before.
Even before his most recent gig with Bama, Kiffin shined in his first tour of Southern California, helping to guide the Trojans to one of the greatest dynastic runs in college football history. But it’s hard to remember that when more recently, Kiffin led the Trojans to spectacularly disastrous results in 2012, resulting in his termination four games into the season in 2013.
People have a hard time giving credit where credit is due when it concerns Kiffin, and that’s largely because they cannot disassociate his success as as assistant with his failures as the head honcho.
The reality is, not everyone is cut out to be the general, regardless of how great of a lieutenant they are. Kiffin has learned that the hard way, but his relative failures has still afforded him better opportunities each time. I mean, seriously — Kiffin fails up in ways the rest of us can only dream of. Bomb out at the Raiders? Come on down and coach the Vols! Leave unceremoniously to take a head coaching job at USC before failing to meet expectations there? Welcome to Tuscaloosa! And the reason Kiffin is able to keep getting job after job is that those who run programs, unlike those who run Twitter accounts, understand that Kiffin can absolutely produce for you if put in the right situation.
Now, working with a coach like Nick Saban who runs a tight ship and doesn’t let Kiffin anywhere near the media if he doesn’t have to, Kiffin is thriving.
And that’s why professional teams are coming knocking yet again, and why Saban and the Tide are making sure to keep him on staff.