No one could question the value Lane Kiffin has been to Alabama football over the past three years. Although much goes into a football team, the quarterback is universally regarded as the most important position, and Kiffin has worked wonders in developing Blake Sims (2014), Jake Coker (2015), and freshman Jalen Hurts (2016) into first-year starters who produced brilliantly.
Meanwhile, Kiffin has expressed publicly the value he has received from having worked under Nick Saban, who is generally regarded as the best head coach in college football today and one of the best of all time.
Kiffin has served as a head coach on three occasions – with the Oakland Raiders of the NFL, at Tennessee, and at Southern Cal. And, as Saban pointed out, he had greater success than most want to give him. Tennessee was certainly getting competitive with Alabama when Kiffin left for what he perceived as a better job. Unfortunately for Kiffin, the scholarship penalties incurred by the Trojans before Kiffin got there were too much for him to overcome in a short time.
He joined the Alabama staff and has been part of teams that have gone 39-3 to this point in the 2016 season – 12-2 in 2014, 14-1 with a national chamnpionship last year, and 13-0 this season and into the College Football Playoff.
So what is the future for Kiffin?
There has been no hiding the fact that Kiffin wants to be a head coach again and he was actively involved in Houston’s search for a successor to Tom Hermann, who moved on to Texas. By all accounts, Houston feared that Kiffin would also use Houston as a stepping stone to a big time job, and so Houston hired Major Applewhite, who had been offensive coordinator under Hermann (and, yes, who had been a one-year offensive coordinator under Saban at Alabama in 2007).
Kiffin may or may not have been in the hunt for the job at South Florida, but that was taken by the failed former Texas coach, Charlie Strong.
There has been no secret of the desire that new LSU Coach Ed Orgeron has to add Lane Kiffin to his staff. LSU has players, has been good on defense, but has struggled offensively.
So where will Lane Kiffin be in 2017?
He has said that he hopes to be a part of Alabama preparation for the CFP and Saban has said that he expects Kiffin to be with the staff if it doesn’t conflict with any new job Kiffin might get. With head coaching jobs in short supply, it’s reasonable to think Kiffin will continue as long as Alabama’s season does.
Next up for Bama is the Peach Bowl game against Washington, the semifinal game of the CFP, on Dec. 31.
Kiffin’s possibilities would seem to include:
• Join the LSU staff
• Return to the Alabama staff
• Join an NFL team
• Not coach in 2017
And that’s not to say he doesn’t have other options.
First, think about Nick Saban’s options if Kiffin leaves. In a word, “endless.” Saban knows or knows of every top candidate for offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Moreover, what assistant coach would not want the last line of his resume to be “Offensive coordinator under Nick Saban at Alabama”?
Conventional wisdom a few weeks ago was that Steve Sarkisian, a former head coach at Washington and USC now serving as an offensive analyst at Alabama, would move into the position if Kiffin left. That is no longer believed to be likely.
But, Saban does have another offensive analyst on staff in Mike Locksley who has been an offensive coordinator at Illinois and Maryland, a recruiting coordinator at Florida, and a head coach at New Mexico. He is now considered the flavor of the day.
But, again, Saban will have his choice of many, many qualified candidates if Kiffin leaves.
We have no idea if a pro team would want Kiffin. We also have no reason to believe that Kiffin would sit out a year, but we suspect he could afford it.
As we have pointed out in the past, the move to LSU looks to be a risky career move. Not many schools would have been knocking down the door to hire Orgeron as a head coach, and whether he can get the job done at LSU is not a given. If Kiffin goes to LSU, he will have to find a quarterback and will have fewer options than he has had in being successful at that task in Tuscaloosa.
In short, the move to LSU from Alabama would be less than a lateral move.
Is it possible that Kiffin doesn’t have the option to stay at Alabama? Or that he wants out regardless of the alternative?
Yes. It is possible that Saban is tired of Kiffin or Kiffin is tired of Saban. In fact, it’s possible they are tired of one another.
One of the interesting by-products of Kiffin being on the job market has been the pleasure Bama’s cross-state rival seems to be taking in events. Here’s the deal:
Alabama isn’t going away if it loses Lane Kiffin.
And if Kiffin goes to LSU, it could add another layer between Alabama and others trying to get to the top of the SEC West.