SPORTS SQUIB | Despite Impressive Win, Kiffin’s Dark History Doesn’t Change

It was Saban’s team that won the national championship, not Lane Kiffin’s.

By Gus Jarvis | 1/14/16

When the University of Alabama stormed onto the playing field Monday night in what was an electric atmosphere for the College Football Playoff National Championship, I was disappointed to see offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin wasn’t sporting his usual bowl attire of ragged hoodie, with hood up of course, and oversized dark sunglasses.

No, Kiffin actually looked classy. He’d cleaned up his act, it would seem, ever since U.S.C. fired him on a desolate LAX tarmac back in 2013. Dressed to the sideline nines and sporting a positive attitude, Kiffin was in Glendale, Ariz. for redemption. Kiffin was there to rewrite his entry in the history of college football. He was there to prove to the world that he was still worth a damn.

Oh, there were a hundred storylines to follow into Monday’s big game, but with Kiffin anywhere in my vicinity, it’s hard for me to refrain from focusing on the little weasel.

As a Tennessee fan, I will never get over his decision to ditch the Vols for U.S.C. back in 2010. From there, it was simply too easy to hate the guy as his ship sank in Southern California and had to go looking for new work down in Tuscaloosa.

Full disclosure here: I was in attendance at Monday’s game wearing Alabama colors. It was an unnatural thing for me to do as a Vols fan but when your Crimson Tide-crazed mother-in-law hands you a ticket to the national championship for Christmas, the only thing to say besides “Thank you” is “Roll Tide!”

While down in the greater Phoenix area, it wasn’t too hard to get into the spirit of rooting for a team I normally despise. All it took for me was to wake up and have one red beer followed by a screwdriver. I followed that by four antacids and then another red beer.

By the time 10 a.m. rolled around, I was ready to set into about 10 to 15 Budweisers that would eventually carry me to game time. After that, bourbon. When it was finally time to pour ourselves into the University of Phoenix Stadium, I was in full “Roll Tide” attitude. I had my southern accent down and everything.

As far as the game went, I’m not sure anyone could have asked for a better one. I know Clemson fans are still down and out over the 45-40 loss but really, it was a fantastic game full of big plays, touchdowns and trickery. Any national championship that’s tied 24-24 with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter is a great game, perhaps even an instant classic.

While I was all aboard the Alabama train during the game, I did find myself cursing Kiffin and his play calling for the Tide. I couldn’t figure out why Lane wouldn’t seriously commit to the running game, especially in the second half when we all know Alabama could grind out a win behind their gigantic line.

“If Alabama loses this game, it’s because Lane Kiffin won’t run the ball!”

I must have said it 10 times, much to the annoyance of a few family members sitting next to me. I’m a broken record sometimes, I know. I probably say the same exact thing 30 times during Broncos games on Sunday.

“Jesus, why won’t we run the ball?”

Anyway. Like I said, I am a broken record.

Instead of pounding the ball down an opponent’s throat over and over, Kiffin likes a cute, balanced attack full of weird motions, new formations and the use of different weapons. His style didn’t work at U.S.C. where size and physicality run offenses. I wondered if the same would become true in Alabama, where, of course, size and physicality also move the ball.

As it turns out, Alabama’s 45-40 win came on Kiffin’s balanced approach to the game, especially when he brought tight end O.J. Howard out of the shadows for 208 yards and two touchdowns. Kiffin was able to use tempo to find mismatches for big plays and in the end, his offense worked – and worked very well – for Nick Saban and the rest of the Alabama Crimson Tide nation.

I’m not afraid to give credit where credit is due. Kiffin’s offense was impressive on Monday. Perhaps not my style, especially with a team as big and physical as Alabama’s, but it was effective nonetheless.

So in the days following Alabama’s big win, the headlines started rolling out about Kiffin and his so-called redemption. Many of them say he’s rewritten his tainted history. Others say he’s completely redeemed himself with that victory. Still others wonder if he might be ready to be head coach again, either in the college ranks or in the N.F.L.?

Perhaps he’s taken a step in a positive direction, but in no way should this man be given the keys to an entire team again. Monday’s Alabama win was in part thanks to Kiffin’s offense but it was all done under the iron-fisted direction of coach Nick Saban. It was Saban’s team that won the national championship, not Lane Kiffin’s.

For me, Kiffin is one of those guys that needs parameters. He needs to be kept in check. Nick Saban is the best person to keep Lane Kiffin in check and if Alabama is able to keep Saban overseeing Kiffin, they will continue to be great. But as soon as some school or team is dumb enough to make Kiffin an offer as a head coach, history will repeat itself and that particular school will be embarrassed because of Kiffin. It’s the reason why Kiffin has been fired by both a college team and a N.F.L. team midseason. That’s a hard thing to accomplish.

In short, Kiffin is just like Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Both are great offensive coordinators. Both are terrible leaders and terrible head coaches. Lane McDaniels? Josh McKiffin? Man, they are the same person to me. They should both be kept in cages in the film room, never allowed to see the light of day. That’s the place where they are most effective.

I would agree that Kiffin’s offense was impressive last week but his history as a head coach is etched in stone, impossible to rewrite.

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About the Author

Gus Jarvis

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Gus Jarvis is a journalist, writer, bloviator at large and co-editor of the San Juan Independent.