The Alabama offense is in the news this week after the Crimson Tide put up 672 yards against Florida last week. That has added to the pile-on in the Sunshine State. Will Muschamp, a former defensive coach under Nick Saban, is head coach at Florida. Not far away in Tallahassee, Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher – also a former Saban assistant -- is being ripped because he can’t seem to get a handle on his impetuous quarterback, Jameis Winston.
Nick Saban seemed to have been waiting on any question regarding Lane Kiffin, who has known his share of disdain in recent years. Kiffin had little success as a head coach, both at Tennessee where he deserted the program and at USC where he was unceremoniously fired on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport midway through last season.
But as the record in the first four games of this season indicates, Kiffin knows offense. Moreover, he knows what kind of offense Saban wants.
Saban didn’t even allow the question to finish before he was saying, “No!”
“I’ve been begging the offensive coordinators around here to open it up since I've been here,” Saban said, and that fits with what he has said in the past – that he likes to have an offense that is open and attacks.
Saban said, “Jimbo Fisher was the best offensive coordinator I've ever had, that ever did what I wanted to do,” and went on to indicate that Kiffin gets it.
Bama’s offense has been known primarily as a blue collar, running game attack (even as former quarterback A.J. McCarron was setting all sorts of Crimson Tide passing records).
“Everybody wants to run the ball,” Saban said of his past offensive coordinators who took advantage of the likes of Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, and Eddie Lacy. “Now, we've always had a very good team to run the ball. And we had a very good defense, and it was really smart to play the way we played.
“Now, we have more skill players that are good perimeter players and I think we are doing what we need to do on offense to take advantage of that. Lane does a really, really good job of taking advantage of what players can do. I think that has benefitted us so far this season.”
Saban added, “My philosophy hasn't changed at all. I've always asked for this. ‘Why don't we throw the ball on this look instead of running this play where we can't block everybody?’ Which is what we do now. It's a pro philosophy, and Lane's got experience as a pro coach. That's his background, that's what he does.
“And he does a really good job. And I think he utilizes the players really well and presents problems for the defense by formation and adjustment. It's worked out well, and hopefully will continue to improve.”
As he sometimes does, Saban elaborated.
“It's never been bad,” Saban said of his relationship with Kiffin. “Whoever said it was bad? So why does it need to get better? I thought something had to be bad before it needed to get better. So why do you ask me has it gotten better? That assumes it was bad, that it was worse at one time.
“So now we're in love, we fell out of love and now we're back in love.”
Saban brought Kiffin in as a consultant last December as Bama was preparing for the Sugar Bowl. After the season, Doug Nussmeier left Alabama for the same position of offensive coordinator at Michigan and Kiffin was brought in. “We communicate well together,” Saban said. “He's very respectful in terms of presenting the information that I need, and when I make suggestions, he always respects them. We communicate well during the game. It's always been good is the way I would put it.”
Saban said he felt he was being “beat up” for hiring Kiffin. “Nobody thought it was a good hire,” he said. “I thought it was a good hire. Nobody else did. I got beat up like a drum for doing it, and now all of a sudden it’s great.”
That doesn’t mean Saban thinks all is well with the offense.
“There are a lot of things we need to do better,” he said.
“The offensive line needs to play better with more consistency. We need to be a better inside running team. You can't have seven administrative penalties - you know what administrative penalty is, false start, wrong formation, can't get it started right. Bad cadence, all that stuff.
“The players have to do a better job of communicating and doing that.
“But we have made a lot of explosive plays. We haven't always been as consistent as we need to be, and that's what we really want to focus on doing.
“In my opinion, we have not arrived as an offense, and [Kiffin] would be the first to tell you that. And I will tell you that too. A lot of things we did in the last game would get you beat. You turn the ball over four times and have nine penalties on offense, you're not going to win very many games.”
Alabama, ranked second in the nation, does not have a game this week. Bama, 4-0, will play at Ole Miss on Oct. 4.