NCAA

Reclamation of Lane Kiffin

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There were a lot of questions surrounding Alabama before the season. For example, how would first year starter Blake Sims fair? And how would Lane Kiffin mesh with Nick Saban?

After failing to repeat as National Champions last season, the Crimson Tide are in the four-team playoff, where they’ll face the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Kiffin was left for dead after being fired by USC last year. It was his third head coaching stint, which ended sour just like his previous two stops (Tennessee and Oakland).

However, Kiffin’s failures were probably the best thing to happen to him.

“Any experience you have, there are good parts of it and bad parts, and you have to learn from the bad parts and the mistakes that you’ve made,” Kiffin said. “I’ve made a bunch of them, so you learn from those at a young age still and you grow from there and you get stronger in your next job.”

If you ask Bama’s defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, he’ll agree that Kiffin has added nothing but positive energy to Tuscaloosa.

“It’s great to have another opinion ― someone else who’s done it,” Smart explained. “Any time you bring new blood to the staff, it’s always good to have a guy who’s kind of done it a different way. He always gives us the way he’s done it and we can take it or leave it, but he gives you new ideas, fresh ideas. He’s new energy. He’s fun to be around. The kids really like him. He’s a player’s coach and those guys enjoy it.”

Alabama ranks amongst the best in the nation in three telling offensive statistics. 37.1 points per game (t-15th), 490.5 yards per game (15th) and 281 passing yards a game (21st).

Offensive lineman Ryan Kelly loves what Kiffin has brought to the table. 

“I think that’s one of the biggest things that Coach Kiffin has brought to our offense,” said Kelly. “Any time you can get up to the ball and get set a little bit faster, it gives the quarterback more options to check out of things if he doesn’t like what he sees on defense. And it forces the defense you’re going against to play more basic fronts and doesn’t give them a lot of time to check out of things that they can see as well.

“So I think it gives us the advantage on both sides that we can get up and get set and play with a lot of speed. I think Coach Kiffin is really trying to utilize that as an offense.”

Blake Sims was a pleasant surprise to ‘roll tide’ nation, as he threw for 3,250 yards to go along with 26 touchdowns to only seven interceptions. A lot of the credit goes to Kiffin’s free-flowing system.

“I think I just play better as a whole because I’m not thinking as much and just reacting off of what people do,” Sims explained. “I think that’s what I’m best at.”

Even when Sims makes a mistake, Kiffin doesn’t get too down on him.

“You make a bad play and you come off the field. And he’s smiling and joking with you? You kind of forget about it. Next time you go out, next drive, you’re ready to go,” said Sims.

Another beneficiary of Kiffin’s offense is Amari Cooper. During his first two seasons, Cooper grabbed 104 catches, compared to 115 this season to go along with 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith has high praise of Kiffin.

“He does a great job of utilizing personnel groupings and misplacing personnel to get the matchups (he) wants,” Smith told reporters. “As the season went on, from Day 1 ’til the very end, the different places he put Amari Cooper, it makes it really hard to zero in on one player.”

The problem with a lot of coaches is their unwillingness to adapt to their personnel. Well, that hasn’t been a problem for Kiffin. In fact, Saban is impressed with how Kiffin has handled his weapons.

“I think that (Kiffin’s) willingness to make changes in what he’s always done because of the personnel that we have was something a lot of coaches wouldn’t want to do,” the most successful head coach in college football said. “You know, they’d want to stay with the system that they know. (But) he certainly did an outstanding job of tailoring our offense to the people that we have, featuring players, doing what the quarterback can do, and it’s worked out extremely well for us.”

As Alabama hopes to obtain their 16th National Championship, Kiffin was asked if he would be returning to Alabama for the 2015 campaign.

“Yes, definitely,” Kiffin responded. “I think that we still have a lot of stuff that we can do better. Working with a new quarterback, that will be exciting. To me, the excitement of the unknown when you have the quarterback, to see if we can do this again, if we can perform really well and obviously coach has recruited very well year in and year out.”

There’s no doubt teams will be calling for Kiffin’s services after the season, but it appears he’ll remain under Saban for at least another year.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.