The news that highly scrutinized Lane Kiffin was making his way to Tuscaloosa made the Alabama Crimson Tide the butt of jokes across the nation.
However, the other 13 SEC schools better tread lightly before laughing at the expense of their conference foe.
On Jan. 10, the Crimson Tide announced that Kiffin would be taking over as offensive coordinator for the departing Doug Nussmeier, via ESPN’s Alex Scarborough. Kiffin would also assume the role of quarterbacks coach.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban seemed thrilled about the hire.
“We are excited to have [Kiffin] join our staff,” Saban said, via Scarborough’s report. “He has a very good understanding of the game…He coaches with a great passion and enthusiasm, and also does an excellent job as a teacher.”
Those remarks dumbfounded many in the college football world.
Did Saban not know this is the same guy who had controversial exits from all three of his head-coaching gigs? The same guy whose players seemingly mutinied against him while holding meetings without him? Or the same guy who posted an underwhelming 40-36 record over the last seven seasons during stints with the Oakland Raiders (NFL), Tennessee Volunteers and USC Trojans?
Yes, more than likely the well-studied Saban knows all of that. But he also knows that we’re talking about Kiffin the assistant coach, not Kiffin the head coach.
The former is a light that shines more favorably for the embattled 38-year-old.
From 2001-06, Kiffin worked as an assistant under Pete Carroll with USC. During that time, he served as the tight ends coach for a season, wide receivers’ coach for another three and as the offensive coordinator in the other two.
Describing his tenure with the Trojans as successful would be an understatement:
|Kiffin as USC Assistant Coach|
|Before Promotion (1999-01)||17-19||26.4||373.6|
|WR Coach (2002-04)||36-3||38.3||448.6|
|Offensive Coordinator (2005-06)||23-3||39.8||485.8|
As you can see, the production on offense only grew as Kiffin gained more responsibility with the unit.
Sure, he had the fortunes of coaching top-tier talent such as Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Mike Williams. However, that doesn’t mean Kiffin didn’t have a significant role in the development of these players.
In fact, if you cast aside the general negativity surrounding Kiffin’s career as a head coach, there are some silver linings, believe it or not.
Just take a look at the impact Kiffin made on the offensive side of things in his first year as compared to the team’s performance the season before his arrival:
|Kiffin's Growth on Team's Offense in 1st Year as HC|
|Team||TOT YPG||PASS YPG||RUSH YPG||PPG|
|Oakland Raiders (2007)||294.8 (+48.6)||164.4 (+13.1)||130.4 (+35.5)||17.7 (+7.2)|
|Tennessee (2009)||383.6 (+114.8)||226.3 (+80.5)||157.3 (+34.4)||29.3 (+5.5)|
|USC (2010)||431.5 (+42.4)||241.7 (+19.4)||189.8 (+23.0)||31.0 (+4.5)|
Yes, his overall record as a head coach displays that Kiffin still has a lot to learn about leading an entire football team. But there’s no doubt that he surely knows how to bolster an offense.
It’s no easy task to take a Raiders’ rushing attack that ranked in the bottom five and transform it into the No. 6-ranked unit in the NFL. That 2007 squad was paced by running back Justin Fargas, who had 1,009 of his eight-year career total 3,369 rushing yards in that season alone.
Kiffin also had a similar turnaround at Tennessee, helping the offense generate a 70-percent increase in total yards from the season before.
Those improvements came largely in the passing attack behind the improvements of quarterback Jonathan Crompton. Kiffin took a senior quarterback that had thrown just nine touchdowns and nine interceptions over his first three years at Knoxville and molded him into a fifth-round NFL draft choice in 2010.
That kind of coaching is exactly what Saban and the Tide need as they prepare to replace all-time school passing leader AJ McCarron under center next season.
Furthermore, Kiffin also has a knack for recruiting.
Although he was hired as the Vols head coach in December of 2008, he still brought in the No. 7 overall class in 2009. More impressively, amidst hefty scholarship restrictions, Kiffin still managed to bring in three top-10 classes for USC in four seasons while luring in 11 5-star prospects during that span.
It’s not like Alabama needs much help in that aspect—Saban has registered six consecutive top-five classes—but having another successful recruiting mind on board certainly doesn’t hurt.
All in all, hiring Kiffin is a high-reward, low-risk move for the Tide.
Suddenly, what was expected to be a down year on offense doesn’t look like that anymore.
So get in your laughs while you can, SEC schools. Because by the time the 2014 season rolls around, there’ll be nothing funny about Alabama’s offense.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com.