Some program, somewhere, will be hoping the fourth time is the charm for Lane Kiffin.
Alabama’s offensive coordinator has left three separate fanbases (Tennessee, Southern California and the NFL’s Oakland Raiders) bitterly disappointed after each of his trio of head coaching stops.
But two-plus seasons of career rehabilitation under Nick Saban’s wing should make Kiffin one of the country’s most popular names when pundits discuss job openings in December. Alabama’s running game is still dominant (fifth in the country with 5.85 yards per rush), and the air attack has been transformed since the pass-happy Kiffin arrived.
Overall, ‘Bama is producing 6.75 yards per play this season, which leads the SEC and is 11th nationally. A third straight playoff appearance appears imminent, and it’s tough to imagine Kiffin’s stock rising any higher than it is at this moment.
Who else will be joining Kiffin in the thick of the coaching carousel? Here are a few names you’ll want to keep an eye on:
Rhett Lashlee, Auburn offensive coordinator
Still only 33 years of age, Lashlee has been Gus Malzahn’s right-hand man for most of the past two decades. They met when Malzahn was hired to coach Shiloh Christian High School in Springdale, Ark., and Lashlee was a quarterback in the middle-school football program.
Malzahn has been a mentor ever since. This is Lashlee’s fourth year as Auburn’s offensive coordinator and the 10th year overall he’s been on a coaching staff with his former coach.
Lashlee was one of college football’s “buzz” names when he helped Auburn win the SEC in 2013 and lit up the scoreboard again in 2014. But last year qualified as a major disappointment. While this season’s offense (34th in the country, fifth in SEC at 6.26 yards per play) has been excellent at times, last weekend’s ugly loss to Georgia was a reminder that the Tigers are not elite on offense.
According to ESPN, recent FBS addition Georgia State might consider Lashlee for its open head coaching job, but there may also be some bigger fish looking for an offensive-minded leader come December.
“I don’t know how else to say it,” Samford linebackers coach and former colleague Ross Newton told SEC Country a couple weeks ago. “I don’t really know what ‘it’ is. If I did, I would bottle it up. But he’s got ‘it.’”
Geoff Collins, Florida defensive coordinator
A member of the Saban coaching tree (his first SEC job was director of player personnel for Nick Saban’s first Alabama team in 2007), Collins and his defense has been the primary reason why Florida has stuck around in the Top 25 over the past two seasons despite some awful stretches on offense.
How good have the Gators been on “D?” They’ve only allowed 14 offensive touchdowns in nine games and just 4.32 yards per play (both fifth-best in the country). They’re good against the run and the pass, ranking the Top 15 in rushing yards per attempt (3.1) and passing yards per attempt (6.02).
Collins interviewed for the Central Florida job last year, but the Golden Knights went with Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost instead.
Another strong performance in 2016 means Collins is once again a candidate for most of the country’s job openings.
Dave Aranda, LSU defensive coordinator
There’s no question Aranda is one of the country’s best coordinators. He built a consistently great defense at Wisconsin, and his powers have translated to the SEC. Louisiana State is currently tied for first in country with only 10 offensive touchdowns allowed.
But he doesn’t have the gift of gab that some programs look for; he’s not a man who’s going to light up a living room on a recruiting visit or rally a group of boosters.
“I haven’t seen any coach like him,” LSU linebacker Arden Key said this week. “He don’t say much. It’s like he’s not out there. He has that little mean stare at you like you’re in trouble, but he’s trying to read what’s going on or the different things that the offense is running or what X-Os are not working. He’s a great coach.”
Key continued: “He’s not the one to come talk to you. He might, or he might give you a little stare and you go ‘What’s going on, coach?’ And then he opens up.”
Even if another school doesn’t scoop him up, Aranda might take on a different challenge.
“If his aspirations really are to stay in college, he’ll probably be a head coach within the next two or three years,” SEC Country beat writer Nick Suss explained in an email. “But I wouldn’t be shocked to see him move up to the NFL and be a DC over there for a little while. He’s got the production to prove he can do it. He runs the multiple-style that is all the rage in the pros and he’s got the personality to fit in.”
Mel Tucker, Georgia defensive coordinator
In the simplest terms: it’s Tucker’s turn.
The 44-year-old has done just about everything necessary to build a resumé worthy of his first head-coaching gig. He got his start under Nick Saban (at Michigan State in 1997); coached defensive backs on Ohio State’s national championship team in 2002; and spent seven seasons as an NFL defensive coordinator (and went 2-3 as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ interim head coach in 2011).
This season, he’s made Georgia a Top-20 rushing defense (3.47 yards allowed per carry) and most recently completed the difficult task of holding Kentucky and Auburn to 31 combined points.
If he can continue to get positive results in the final two weeks, Tucker will likely receive interest from other programs.