Saturday, January 11, 2014

Kiffin-palooza: Who else is not sure what to make of this hire?

imageCount me as being as wrong as I am confused. In what surprised many observers of the Nick Saban era at the University of Alabama, Former Oakland Raider, Tennessee and USC head coach Lane Kiffin has been hired to take over the Crimson Tide offense.

I thought such a thing would never happen. I was wrong.

“We are excited to have Lane join our staff,” said Alabama head coach Nick Saban in a statement. “He is an outstanding and creative offensive coach who has great experience both at the college and NFL level. He has a very good understanding of the game and I have always been impressed with what I saw in the games he called. He coaches with a great deal of passion and enthusiasm, and also does an excellent job as a teacher. Lane will be an outstanding addition to our coaching staff and we look forward to him and his family joining us at the University of Alabama.”

I agree that the guy can coach. We all know that he can recruit. But he’s been fired from two of his last three jobs as a head coach, which means he’s also either a helluva salesman of his own acumen, he’s a locker room polarizer, or both.

I’m not sure what to make of this. Does Saban really see Kiffin as the guy, or did Kiffin convince Saban that he was the guy in what may have been the most seductive, most irresistible sales jobs in the history of seductive, irresistible sales jobs?

It’s said that a good salesman can sell crap to a sewer man and ice to an Eskimo. It’s also said that Nick Saban is a genius when it comes to identifying highly qualified assistants. Maybe Kiffin is an excellent salesman who is also a highly qualified assistant that just happens to be a locker room polarizer.

If Saban can rein in the latter of those three extant character traits of the boy wonder, this might prove to be a brilliant hire. If the product sold proves to fraudulently defective and the boy wonder’s ego causes strife and tension in the locker room and staff meetings, all hell could break loose and college football’s most prolific program could spend enough time wandering in the wilderness to make the head coach wonder if it’s time to go watch the ducks F$%^ on the lake.

It is a splashy, albeit risky hire for Saban.

Kiffin’s background is in pro-style and West Coast offensive strategies. He’s a decent play-caller and has made the most of the talent he’s had on the field (whenever he’s had enough talent to make a difference). The one thing that Kiffin has never had the benefit of in any of his three previous coaching stints is a roster full of talent that is as deep as it is heralded. In fact, in this space I discussed how his roster management skills gave USC a chance to be competitive in an NCAA sanctions environment that was intended to make his team far less competitive than it was. It could make a difference.

Or, it could result in Lane just being Lane, and it could be a disaster of biblical proportions at the Capstone.

Beginning with the 2014 season, we’ll find out. But, I’m still not sure what to make of this, and I dare not make any more predictions. My scorecard on that account is woeful.

[ed note: This post is corrected to reflect that Kiffin was fired from two of his last  three jobs, not all three, as originally posted.]