Lane Kiffin’s early dismissal as Alabama offensive coordinator is just another chapter of weird and ugly exits for the new FAU head coach.
For the longest time, it seemed that the marriage between Lane Kiffin and Nick Saban would end amicably: both coaches getting what they wanted out of the other, with Kiffin eventually moving on to his head coaching gig with Florida Atlantic.
This is Lane Kiffin, though, a man who has mastered the art of leaving a job by way of the absurd. And this latest move, departing a week before Alabama faces Clemson in national championship game rematch, might just be his masterpiece.
The responsibilities of being Alabama’s offensive coordinator and the new head coach at FAU were deemed too consuming by both Saban and Kiffin, something that both men should have seen when Kiffin took the Owls job in December. To his credit, Kiffin stayed on the Alabama staff and helped the players he had coached all season long prepare for the College Football Playoff semifinal game against Washington. This at a time when many other head coaches deserted their teams and players as soon as the ink was dry on a new contract at a new school.
However, there were signs that trouble was brewing well before Alabama’s lackluster offensive performance in the win against the Huskies on Saturday evening. Kiffin, per Brett McMurphy, had been late to meetings and missed team buses leading up to the game – slippage that does not fly under Saban’s meticulous watch.
Then came the head coach being extremely unhappy with the offense’s performance on Saturday, as the Crimson Tide, including freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, looked lost and confused at times, hardly playing up to the expectations of the head coach’s exacting standards.
“I think the way we went about the last game, whether it was the preparation, the practice, being able to focus on what we needed to do for our team relative to the distractions that occur when you’re trying to hire a staff and recruit another place and all these types of things,” Saban said after the news of Kiffin’s premature departure broke. “Hey, Lane did the best he could. It’s a difficult circumstance. We certainly wish him well. We both had a meeting yesterday and again this morning that we thought this would be in the best interest and mutually agreed for both parties to move on.”
There is quite a lesson to be learned here for any future Saban assistants.
Saban put up with Kiffin’s sporadic lapses of immaturity during his tenure because the offensive coordinator was focused on the team and getting the job done. The legendary coach demands all-out effort, and when he saw that he wasn’t getting that from his assistant, Kiffin was gone.
Current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart was able to handle the pressures of pulling double duty last season, as he oversaw the Crimson Tide defense during their run to the national championship while also acting as head coach for the Bulldogs. From all accounts there was no problem with Smart’s focus, hence a precedent was set and Saban afforded Kiffin the same opportunity to put a tidy bow on his Alabama stint. Alas, things played out much differently.
Alabama will move on, as Steve Sarkisiain, who was already hired as Kiffin’s replacement for next season, will call the plays in the national title game against Clemson.
For Kiffin, it is just another weird chapter in an ongoing story of a man yet to master the concept of an exit strategy.