Joey Freshwater

The Curious Case of Lane Kiffin

I actually planned on writing this blog entry for a while and decided last week to write it.  In researching this blog I learned the day I’d post the link would be Lane Kiffin’s 42nd birthday.  Happy birthday, Coach Kiffin.  I hope you’re on a Florida beach with a beer bottle in hand soaking in your 42 years.  I’d be disappointed if you weren’t.

Everything about Lane Kiffin intrigues me.  The dude has a genius football mind but he can’t seem to keep focus or have any kind of drive to want to be great.  Something I talk about all the time in what I think drives people to be great is channeling losing to get better but losing doesn’t seem to bother him.  He just seems like a frat guy that doesn’t take anything too serious.  He’s extremely gifted for his profession but he doesn’t seem to really care.  He was definitely too young to be named head coach of the Raiders at 31 but in a decade of having major responsibilities as a coach he hasn’t appeared to have grown up or developed any kind of drive to be great.  He’s just living life.

On his 42nd birthday Lane Kiffin will have had the following titles:

  • Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders
  • Head Coach of the Tennessee Volunteers
  • Head Coach of the USC Trojans
  • Offensive Coordinator at Alabama with three straight berths in the College Football Playoffs winning one national championship.
  • Head Coach of Florida Atlantic University

There are coaches in their 60s that would die to have just one of those titles.  Lane Kiffin has done this by his 42nd birthday.  It’s remarkable.  And he hasn’t been terrible at each stop other than Oakland but who hasn’t been terrible in Oakland.  His main issue is he never lived up to the expectations put on him at USC but he was working with a stacked deck against him with postseason bans and scholarship restrictions.

I really didn’t watch much of Lane Kiffin while he was at Tennessee or USC to know what kind of coach he truly was when it came to games.  I remember the remarks he made at Tennessee that pissed off Urban Meyer and some of the shenanigans he had at USC like claiming he didn’t know the ball boy was deflating footballs or whatever it was.  There was some other stuff at USC that I remember thinking he wasn’t taking things seriously as a head coach.

Where I really started paying attention to Lane Kiffin was as OC at Bama.  With A&M playing Bama every year and Bama being the bell cow of college football I started watching a lot of their games.  To me Kiffin has hands down been the best play caller in the country over the last three years.  Sure, he’s working with a ton of talent but the reality is he jump started a Bama offensive that was pretty bland and vanilla before he got there.  Bama started putting a lot more points on the board.  I don’t think Kiffin gets enough credit for it because everyone just points to Bama’s talent and thinks anyone could have done it.

For people that make that argument let me make a counter argument in that Kiffin won the SEC three years in a row with Blake Sims, Jake Coker, and true freshman Jalen Hurts as his QB.  Look at that list again.  I don’t think there’s another OC in the country that even with Bama’s other offensive talent would have won the SEC and been to the College Football Playoff three years in a row with that string of quarterbacks.  The only consistent in Bama’s offensive output in those three seasons is Lane Kiffin.  The dude has been a magnificent play caller in his three seasons as Bama’s OC.

The only game I can recall where I thought Kiffin was questionable was the 2014 CFP Semi Final against Ohio State.  Ohio State took the lead in the third quarter and then Sims threw a pick six which put Ohio State up by two scores.  Bama was able to score and get the game within six and then both teams punted back and forth a little.  On one particular punt the Bama defense pushed Ohio St back to the goal line and Ohio St botched the punt giving it to Bama at the 23 yard line.  That is opportunity pounding on the door if I ever saw it.

Considering Sims had thrown the pick six three series ago I felt Bama should have pounded it down Ohio State’s throat with Derrick Henry.  Lean on their defense and at worst get three points out of the deal while giving the defense some rest.  What does Kiffin do?  On the very first play of getting the ball on the Ohio State 23 he calls a pass play to the goal line.  Ohio State picks it off at the one yard line and returns it to the 8.  Bama had a chance to gain all the momentum back but Kiffin gave it right back to Ohio State.  He trusted his play calling over Sims ability.  Kiffin got greedy instead of being smart and it cost Bama the national championship with that playcall because to me Bama never recovered from that call.  There’s little doubt in my mind they would have beaten Oregon just like Ohio State did had they beat Ohio State that game.  Had Kiffin made a different set of play calls there and then coached the national championship game this year there’s a good chance Nick Saban has three national championships in a row.  I’m dead serious.  If that’s Kiffin’s only blemish that’s still REALLY damn good for his three years at Bama.

Midway through last season Kiffin started getting mentioned as a head coaching candidate again.  Had we fired Sumlin last season I thought the combination of Kiffin running the offense and John Chavis running the defense would be a pretty salty staff.  Kiffin’s actions at the end of the season have given me major pause that he’s matured and is driven to be a great head coach.

Kiffin wasn’t in line for any major coaching jobs it seemed.  I think the best opportunity he had was for the UH job and the rumor is he turned that down because of the restrictions and buyout they wanted to prevent him from leaving after a year or two.  I get him not wanting the restrictions but UH is a good program where he could have spent 3-4 years and then stepped up.  They were going to pay pretty well but instead he took the Florida Atlantic coaching job for less money than he was making as OC at Bama.

There’s no doubt his time at Bama had run its course and he had to move on.  I just don’t understand why he took the FAU job for less money than he made at Bama and much less money than he would have made at UH.  FAU is a crappy job.  They haven’t won a damn thing and as great as I think Kiffin is as an OC he’s not going to turn FAU around overnight.  He’ll need to spend 4-5 years there I believe.  He would have been better off going to UH for more money even with the restrictions.  If he won at UH like Briles, Sumlin, and Herman before him there’s no doubt he’d be set up for a solid head coaching gig in a Power 5 conference.  I don’t know that there’s anything more he could accomplish at FAU over UH and he’s taking probably 1/3 of the money to do it with more risk.  It makes no sense if he’s matured and truly driven to be a national championship winning head coach.  The FAU job is a real head scratcher from a coaching standpoint.

In addition to the UH job there’s another clear better option than FAU.  Kiffin could have gone to LSU to be OC for his buddy Ed Ogeron.   LSU would have likely paid Kiffin $2 million a year to run their offense and there’s enough talent at LSU to beat Bama and win a national championship.  If Kiffin had at minimum beaten Bama just once in two years then SEC schools would have backed up dump truck piles of cash to give him their head coaching job.  There’s no doubt in my mind about that.  I actually think taking the LSU OC job would have been his best move as he would have made twice the money he’s making at FAU and he could have beaten Bama with LSU’s talent.  LSU has every bit of talent as Bama but just doesn’t have the coaching.  With a Bama win under his belt at LSU he could have the pick of SEC jobs.  SEC schools would have fired their coach not named Saban or Coach O to hire Kiffin.  Hell, LSU might have fired or demoted Coach O if Kiffin actually beat Saban.  I’m dead serious.

What I really think happened is he took the FAU gig solely to chase women.  He got divorced a year or two ago and outside of coeds on the Bama campus I can’t imagine there were any single women in Tuscaloosa up to his standards.  He knew Bama coeds were off limits or Saban would actually castrate him.  He thought with the wrong head and headed to Boca Raton where the women for his standards are plentiful and nobody cares about the social life of Lane Kiffin because he’s basically a nobody in South Florida.  I really think that was the main factor for his taking the FAU job.

At USC he made $3.4 million in his last year which was 2013 and he had two years left on his deal so he also made $3.4 million in 2014 and 2015 between USC and Bama.  In 2016 he made $1.4 million which is $2 million less a year from his previous salary.  Then he took a gig for $1 million a year while turning down better opportunities for at least twice the money.  Plus, he’s paying child support and alimony to his ex wife so it’s not like that money is going directly to him so he’s taking a SIGNIFICANT pay cut to coach at FAU.  I really think he just moved to Boca Rotan for the women because he doesn’t care about coaching all that much.  There’s no doubt money isn’t everything but I just wonder if he’s driven to be great.  It doesn’t seem like it’s a driver for him right now.

The other thing that makes me pause for his true drive to be great is how things went down at Bama.  When he accepted the FAU job it was stated he would finish with Bama including the national championship game if they got there.  After beating Washington to get in the national championship game two to three days later it’s announced Kiffin would not be coaching in the national championship game.  That was out of the blue and my guess is Saban told him to pack his stuff because he wasn’t focused anymore.  A guy driven for success would have been so focused to win that game knowing it would help his recruiting at FAU even more by being able to show off back to back championship rings.  If he’s suffering burnout at 41 for being just the OC at Bama it gets much worse trying to be a national championship head coach.

Maybe I’m wrong about Kiffin.  Maybe he has a plan in place for achieving greatness which to me is winning national championships.  Maybe he doesn’t care and just wants to live an easy life away from the stresses of big time college football.  If he truly wants to be great there are better paths to take than the one he’s taking now.  He just turned 42 today so maybe there’s time for him to mature but I believe this is about the time he should really mature and change his focus.  Based on his actions in the last 6-9 months he’s definitely not ready to be head coach at an SEC program competing for national championships in my mind.

Either way he’s accomplished more than most head coaches at the age of 42 so maybe he’s just on the beach with a cold beer in his hand smiling that he figured out the world before it figured him out.

Happy Birthday Coach Kiffin.

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