The marriage between Alabama head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin ended a week earlier than expected when it was announced today that Kiffin will not be coaching the Crimson Tide offense in Monday’s national championship re-match against Clemson.
After accepting the head coaching position at Florida Atlantic, the expectation was that Kiffin would finish out the season with Alabama. But over the last few days, things done changed.
“We made the decision because it was in the best interest of our players, our program and for Lane for him to assume his duties at Florida Atlantic,” Saban told ESPN today. “We mutually agreed that this was best for both programs.”
Behind closed doors, Saban and the Alabama stuff had had enough with Kiffin, with one school staffer saying, “We’re done with him.”
“This wasn’t an easy decision and we appreciate the way Lane handled this in terms of doing what is best for our team,” Saban said in a statement. “At the end of the day, both of us wanted to put our players in the best position to be successful. Obviously, we are in a unique situation here where we have our next offensive coordinator already on staff.”
That coordinator is Steve Sarkisian, the former USC coach that Saban had taken on as another reclamation project after he was dismissed from the Trojan program midway through his second season at the helm due to a drinking problem.
Kiffin and Sarkisian served as offensive coordinators under Pete Carroll at USC. Sarkisian worked for Kiffin with the Oakland Raiders, and was the eventual full-time replacement for him in at USC as head coach after Kiffin was fired.
Over the last few weeks, it was reported that had Kiffin not taken the Florida Atlantic job, he would not have been allowed to return to Alabama next year. Evidently, things had run their course.
But to be asked to leave a few days prior to the biggest game of the year cannot bode well for Kiffin, for whom controversy has followed in every step of his head coaching career.
The Kiffin-Saban pairing was seen by many as the college football version of the Odd Couple. Many coaches are intimidated by Saban and are loathe to challenge him. Kiffin was under no such constraints.
The two could often be seen arguing on the sidelines during games, but the results were undeniable. During Kiffin’s three seasons in Tuscaloosa, the Tide won three straight SEC championships with three first-time starting quarterbacks, including last year’s national championship.
Earlier seen as both talented and brilliant as a play caller, Kiffin seemed to be undermined by an obnoxious sense of entitlement that wore out his welcome at his various coaching stops.
The narrative from the last few years seemed to be that, under Saban, he’d matured and grown.
Now, with being excused of his duties at this peculiar time, that newfound humility and maturity has to be called into question.