Kiffin Looks To Finally Place Signature On His Career
By Dan Harralson
Lane Kiffin is back in the SEC — that's right, he's back again.
Kiffin left his mark within the conference after only one season as Tennessee's head coach in 2009. The motto Tennessee dubbed for the Kiffin experiment following the ousting of Phillip Fulmer's 17-year reign in Knoxville, was simply — "It's Time."
It may or may not have been time then, but it feels like the time is now for Kiffin in the conference.
Not many SEC fan bases, including the one he left, have many good feelings towards the former Tennessee, Southern Cal and Oakland Raiders head coach.
To be 39 years old and take over the helm of those three football teams is remarkable. But does it phase Kiffin? Only winning phases Kiffin.
"An accomplishment is to not only get a job, but an accomplishment is to win," Kiffin had told me in 2010.
Kiffin's new role is to get the ship right for the Alabama offense. He replaces departed offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, which was an internal move after the talented 'Bama offense was inconsistent a season ago.
After Kiffin's exit from Tennessee, a school in which he only left because his dream job (USC) came open, SEC commissioner Mike Slive said he was happy for Kiffin to re-establish his western roots:
"The other head coaching change took place at Tennessee when Derek Dooley's predecessor left to return to his western roots," Slive had said in 2010. "I want to welcome Coach Dooley back to the SEC, and when I say 'welcome," I mean welcome. Regional pride and a sense of family are characteristics that set the SEC apart from other conferences."
There's no doubt Kiffin stirred up a lot of things during his lone season on Rocky Top, but Kiffin had his reasons.
"The national juice had died down a bit," Kiffin had told me four years ago. "Kids were going to other schools — there was a different energy level coming into this job (USC) compared to Tennessee."
But let's be honest, his biggest issue was with former Florida head coach Urban Meyer — maybe that's why Saban likes Kiffin?
He also gets blamed for the fashion that he left, but how many head coaches that leave a job actually ever call a press conference announcing their departure — Kiffin did.
He called a press conference because if it was not for USC, his dream job, he would have stayed, and still be staying, Tennessee may have won the SEC East a couple of times since 2010, instead of going through the Derek Dooley years while the east has been down.
But Kiffin chased his dream job, like most Americans would do, and probation prevented him from succeeding in Southern California — just like Mike Shula had probation fail him at Alabama.
The glory days of being head coach in sunny So Cal are over, and it's now time for Kiffin to go to work under the best coach in the game, and the best coach in the game knows what the 39-year old brings to the table. Alabama should become better offensively under Kiffin's direction — and Tennessee's program has became better by landing Butch Jones.
Things work out for a reason and the two "Third Saturday in October" schools are better off for the additions of Kiffin and Jones, thanks to Dooley and Nussmeier not panning out.
The moral of the story is that former Tennessee athletics director Mike Hamilton made two hires in Kiffin and Bruce Pearl. Both were outspoken in their ways of self-promoting their programs and both did not end their Tennessee tenures the way the Vols' fan base wanted them too.
Kiffin's New QBs
Kiffin looks to replace AJ McCarron at Alabama, which may not be the easiest task, but is very capable with whichever QB wins the starting role, due to the amount of talent that will be around the signal caller.
Kiffin re-branded Jonathan Crompton at Tennessee into a fifth-round NFL draft pick, and molded Matt Barkley into a solid QB at USC. Barkley's USC tenure could have been better with more depth throughout his USC teams.
That was in the past and now Kiffin has a fresh slate. His QB options are Jacob Coker, Blake Sims, Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell.
I sat down with D.C. Reeves, who covers Alabama for the Tuscaloosa News, about the QB race — a race that seems to be centered around Florida State transfer Jacob Coker.
"It seems to be a good thing as far as his skill set," Reeves said of the incoming Coker. "He has the NFL size and the arm. On paper, he is very intriguing." Reeves covered Florida State before taking over the same duties covering Alabama's football program, so he has seen Coker before.
His talent is overshadowed by the questions of translating it onto the field in the SEC. "The question remains, and will remain until they take the field in the Georgia Dome for the first game, is whether all the skill translates into wins on the field," Reeves said.
Reeves saw the same situation unfold in Tallahassee this time last year. People want to know who the quarterback will be officially, but does it really help to release it? "I went through this covering Florida State last year," Reeves said. "Trying to determine who will play quarterback with a lot of attention on it, one thing to note is that it doesn't help Nick Saban or Lane Kiffin to name a quarterback at this point. Even if he knows Coker is his guy, he wants the other QBs on the roster to have a fair shake.
"As far as the others, Cornwell should not be a factor in the race, but more of a factor in the long term. Blake Sims has experience, but did not look good in the A-Day game. Bateman looked better in the A-Day game, but let's say Coker wins the job, Sims maybe the No. 2 since he is a senior."
Like the fair shake Saban and Kiffin are giving the Alabama QBs going into fall camp, Kiffin receives the same fair shake to prove his play-calling abilitites on finally an even playing field in his career. The 2014 season should be entertaining to watch offensively for Alabama.
See my complete interview with Kiffin in 2010, a month before USC was placed on probation. Kiffin discusses conference expansion, reasoning's for being outspoken at Tennessee and about 2004 USC playing 2004 Auburn.