I have read Alex Scarborough’s piece on Alabama football — with the catchy and rhetorical headline of “Welcome to the controversy-free spring of … Lane Kiffin?” — four times in the last week.
And each occurrence spawned a different reaction to an insightful article which, incidentally, contained no new quotes or any anecdotal offerings from the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator.
The four: Pity. Disbelief. Bemusement. Ambivalence.
On the ‘pity’ side, I can empathize with how Kiffin had to endure/rebound from two very-public humiliations in his 30s — being fired by the Oakland Raiders in 2008 (managing partner/Hall of Famer Al Davis even sought to revoke termination pay as part of a “just cause” dismissal) and then getting dumped by Southern California in 2013 … inside a terminal of the Los Angeles International Airport (subsequently missing the Trojans’ bus back to campus).
It’s worth noting: Both firings happened during the respective seasons.
On the ‘disbelief’ end, in December 2008, what prompted the 33-year-old Kiffin to predict — but not necessarily promise — an immediate victory over Florida in his introductory press conference? (The Gators would collect a 10-point win nine months later.)
Did he honestly think that poking the bear (in this case, Gators head coach Urban Meyer) would be a productive short-term move … factoring in his .250 winning percentage with the Raiders and how Florida was the defending national champs?
Did that sense of entitled bravado come from coaching in the NFL … or beating up on Oregon State for six years as a longtime assistant with Southern Cal?
And how did Tennessee officials not structure a more prohibitive exit-strategy contract with Kiffin, knowing he’d be an easy flight risk whenever Pete Carroll ended his head-coaching reign with the Trojans (which occurred after the 2009 season)?
As history shows, big-time SEC coaches only pursue other collegiate opportunities outside the conference … when there’s an emotional element at play.
(Carroll owes the early part of his coaching life to Monte Kiffin, Lane’s dad, who mentored/shaped Carroll at stops like Arkansas, North Carolina State and the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.)
On the ‘bemusement’ side, it’s odd that Scarborough seems surprised by Kiffin’s lack of attention-grabbing moves at Alabama (divorce announcement aside).
Yes, Kiffin has a tendency to forecast touchdowns before they occur … but that’s a spontaneous and somewhat endearing response to being good at your job. For what it’s worth, the Crimson Tide has averaged nearly 36 points per game under Kiffin.
Which brings us to this: Alabama coach Nick Saban may be different things to many people in the South, but no one could question his judgment when assembling a staff. The core traits of an elite-level assistant — relentlessly prepared, instinctive, confident, aggressive — never go out of style.
It also helps that Kiffin is often seen but not heard when it comes to Crimson Tide football — another one of Saban’s favorite (mandated) traits for assistants.
On the ‘ambivalence’ end, I cannot help but wonder the following: If Steve Sarkisian (Southern Cal’s co-offensive coordinator during the Carroll era) had accepted Al Davis’s head-coaching offer with the Raiders in 2007 — predating the same invitation to Kiffin — would our football-mad, rivalry-fueled society even know of Kiffin’s exploits today?
Of equal importance, would we even care?
Therein lies the rub for pundits: In this age of bombastic figures in college football and omnipresent social media, it’s darn-near impossible for an SEC assistant, who almost never speaks in public, to be hated by multiple schools (Florida, Tennessee, maybe more).
And yet, Lane Kiffin has that gift.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.