Lane Kiffin, Arkansas State Hero?

The rise of AState football in part traces back to the unforgettable rise and fall of Lane Kiffin as a college football head coach.

Lane Kiffin has never worked at Arkansas State and never coached at Arkansas State. As far as I know, he has never been on campus at A-State, even though his brother was once on the staff. So how did Lane Kiffin shape the rise of Red Wolves football?

After the 2009 season Arkansas State head coach Steve Roberts was looking for a new offensive coordinator. After three seasons of 6-6 and a 5-7 mixed in, the Red Wolves in 2009 fell to 4-8 and scoring dropped by just over 4 points per game from 2008.

Roberts was rumored to have narrowed his choices to two coaches. Clay Helton, who had been let go after ten years at Memphis and was currently unemployed, and Lambuth head coach Hugh Freeze, who was a Tennessee high school coaching legend and a former Ed Orgeron assistant at Ole Miss. Freeze was seeking to move back into FBS coaching and with Lambuth in dire financial straits (the school closed June 20, 2011) he was also seeking more security.

Clay Helton received the early Christmas present by being named offensive coordinator at Arkansas State just before Christmas of 2009. Freeze ends up landing at San Jose State.

You are probably still asking how does Lane Kiffin fit in?

Lane Kiffin enters the story by exiting Tennessee. Departing Knoxville by the glow of a burning mattress after only one season with the Volunteers, Kiffin accepted the job as head coach at Southern California and began assembling a new staff there.

About a month after landing at USC, Lane Kiffin revealed he had hired Helton away from Arkansas State to be quarterbacks coach for the Trojans.

Kiffin’s hiring of Helton left Arkansas State again searching for an offensive coordinator, but the wait to replace Helton didn’t take long. Just over a week later, Steve Roberts hired Freeze to come back to the mid-south.

The Red Wolf offense improved by more than a touchdown per game on average but the win total remained stuck at four. Steve Roberts was let go after the 2010 season and the search began for a new head coach.

The search was short as AState fans and interested local media made it clear that hiring anyone other than Freeze would be seen as a disappointment. Freeze was hired less than a week after the vacancy was created.

Freeze and the Red Wolves rolled through the Sun Belt in 2011 and posted a 10-2 record. After Freeze was hired by Ole Miss, he visited with Gus Malzahn about the A-State job.

Freeze, the guy who landed in Jonesboro because Lane Kiffin hired Clay Helton, encouraged Malzahn to go to A-State.

Malzahn put together a 9-3 record in 2012 and his final six games were arguably the best six-game stretch of football ever played by Arkansas State. He returned to Auburn as the head coach just days after the enjoyable 45-0 thumping of Middle Tennessee.

Texas offensive coordinator and former Boise State OC and player Bryan Harsin became the new head coach at Arkansas State.

Harsin had some struggles in 2013 replicating the success enjoyed by Freeze and Malzahn and his Boise State style offense was not very popular with fans. Not being a southerner probably made Harsin’s transition harder but only going 7-5 after AState had enjoyed winning 20 of 26 games didn’t win over a lot of fans either.

Just as Lane Kiffin was there to intervene on behalf of A-State by making it possible for Hugh Freeze to land in Jonesboro, Kiffin again changed the course of events for the Red Wolves.

Kiffin was fired by USC five games into the 2013 season and interim coach Ed Orgeron was not selected to take over permanently. Steve Sarkisian was hired away from Washington and in turn Washington hired Boise State’s Chris Petersen.

Boise State turned to Boise native and former player and former assistant Bryan Harsin leaving AState looking to hire a head coach for the fourth time in four years.

Blake Anderson, who grew up in Texas but was born in Jonesboro just a few miles from the A-State campus, was serving as offensive coordinator at North Carolina when he was hired.

Anderson is now 2-2 on the season and has a real challenge for the remaining two-thirds of the season with some significant depth and injury problems but most would have expected the Red Wolves to be 1-3 at this point.

The Red Wolves return to action on Oct. 4 at Centennial Bank Stadium against Louisiana Monroe. The game will be shown on ESPN3.