It is apparently hard to be Coach of the Year and Husband of the Year at the same time. The demands placed on an SEC coach’s time require almost round-the-clock devotion to his football program, and that kind of schedule can create problems at home that fester to the point that his marriage has no hope of surviving.
The latest relationship to crack under this pressure is the marriage of Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and his wife, Layla.
Lane Kiffin revealed to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports that they have decided to get a divorce. This is primarily a personal story for them to deal with, and in doing so, they deserve a measure of privacy. However, it is unrealistic to expect this situation to play out entirely beyond the boundaries of the public’s eye due to the longstanding SEC custom of making celebrities out of coaches’ wives.
For instance, there’s no shortage of photographs of Alabama coach Nick Saban’s wife, Terry, celebrating on the field with her husband after a big win. Former UGA coach Mark Richt’s wife, Katharyn, served water to Bulldogs players during games, which made her visible on the sidelines every fall Saturday. And Arkansas coach Bret Bielema’s wife, Jennifer, has been shown on TV so much that it’s hard to imagine she wouldn’t be instantly recognizable to all Razorbacks fans.
In fact, the link between SEC coaches and their wives is so significant that when South Carolina hired Will Muschamp as coach in December, Muschamp provided his wife, Carol, as proof that he would succeed with the Gamecocks.
His reason? As he explained to reporters at his introductory press conference, “If you don’t think I can recruit, look at [my wife] and look at me. I can sell ice to an eskimo.”
If a pretty wife proves an SEC coach is a good recruiter, then what is proven by an SEC coach without a spouse?
That is the question Kiffin is unfortunately going to have to answer as his marriage dissolves publicly. Especially since it’s assumed that Kiffin is attempting to transition from his current role to his preferred position as a head coach once again.
Furthermore, the first ladies of the SEC take on a ceremonial role as matriarchs for the football programs their husbands lead. Any coach that doesn’t have his own first lady alongside him to fill that role could be viewed as an incomplete candidate, and will invite some impolite questions as to why that’s the case. This is certainly unfair, and yet undeniably true.
But nothing is more important in the South than the desire to maintain appearances, and the quickest way to get shunned in this part of the country is to misunderstand that. Kiffin may be about to learn that lesson the hard way.
In other words, don’t be surprised if Kiffin’s name appears on fewer lists as a possible candidate to become an SEC head coach — especially since Kiffin’s divorce comes in the wake of unconfirmed Internet accusations that Kiffin was pursuing young women in bars around Tuscaloosa using the alias Joey Freshwater.
If that ends up being true, then it’ll be a shame. Kiffin has proven himself to be an outstanding coach at Alabama, and that’s not a description many expected to attach to him before he took over the Crimson Tide’s offense.
Kiffin arrived in 2014 with a reputation that was in shambles. He had just been fired after four seasons as head coach at Southern Cal, and had earned few friends during a tumultuous year spent as Tennessee’s coach before that. The sum total of those career setbacks was a scenario where Kiffin had little choice but to turn to Saban to help him rebuild his good name so that he could quickly return to being a head coach.
However, Kiffin’s most recent announcement suggests that his time at Alabama might be far from over, and the work to rebuild his reputation might be far from done.