Lane Kiffin was modest in his goals and complimentary about the team he’ll be facing in the Sugar Bowl. He went on and on about how much he’s learned from Nick Saban, while insisting it’s no big deal when his boss yells at him.
Very un-Kiffin-like, you might say.
Emerging from a Saban-imposed media blackout, Kiffin was back in the spotlight Monday after a season of redemption as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. He’s restored his reputation as one of the game’s most innovative minds but was quick to shoot down any speculation that he might be looking to ride that momentum right back into the head coaching game.
About the same time three NFL teams were firing their coaches – it was “Black Monday,” after all – Kiffin said he has every intention of returning to the Crimson Tide next season.
“Yes. Definitely,” he said during his 45-minute session in a hotel ballroom, not far from the Mississippi River. “I think that we’ve still got a lot of stuff that we can do better.”
It was the first time Kiffin has addressed the media since August. Saban does not allow access to his assistants during the regular season and, rest assured, he surely got a report on everything that rolled from his coordinator’s lips.
Not to worry.
Kiffin was a good boy, by and large, opening up just a bit but largely staying true to the company line. It was a far cry from the cocky, entitled demeanor he displayed through much of his head coaching career, from the NFL’s Oakland Raiders to college stints at Tennessee and Southern Cal, never seeming to show the least bit of appreciation for landing jobs that were far beyond his resume.
He was the guy everyone loved to hate, right down to the lampooning he got from Comedy Central’s “Tosh.0,” which portrayed Kiffin hosting a local access show with an empty trophy case in the background.
Kiffin showed he can still get off a zinger when the moment calls for it, joking with a reporter who framed a question by calling him “divisive.”
“Divisive?” Kiffin said, feigning disbelief. “Gosh, this was going so well.”
Decked out in a black suit, pink shirt and mauve tie, his sandy hair all gelled up, Kiffin thanked Saban for the opportunity to get back on the sideline – “I should pay him” – and said he’s become a better coach simply by observing how things are done at Alabama.
“That was why this was so perfect for me,” Kiffin said. “You come in here, you don’t question anything. You don’t go, `Why isn’t he doing this?’ You go, `Wow, he’s doing this, this, this and this.'”
Alabama (12-1) is two wins away from its fourth national title in six seasons. The Tide meets Ohio State (12-1) in the national semifinal game Thursday night.
Many questioned how Kiffin would handle working for someone else, especially an iron-fisted coach such as Saban.
Kiffin said it’s not been an issue at all.
“I think the assumption about us being so different is very fair,” Kiffin said. “But I don’t think it’s really accurate. We may not have the same personality, but we do have a lot of the same beliefs when it comes to coaching. … Even though people assume we throw the ball wherever we’ve been, we’ve always tried to run the ball.”
Saban has taken great delight in watching the Kiffin-designed offense – which features more passes and less time between plays – run up some truly impressive numbers. Heisman Trophy finalist Amari Cooper has 115 catches for 1,656 yards. Blake Sims has thrown for 3,250 yards with 26 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry have both rushed for more than 900 yards. The Tide has piled up more than 600 yards in four games, as many as it had in the previous 24 years.
Even though they are the oddest of coaching couples, Saban has continually poked at the media for doubting this partnership would work out.
As always, he got the last laugh.
“I knew I was getting a very, very good coach,” Saban said. “I don’t think anybody else expected what I expected, to the point where I even got criticized for doing it by a lot of people. But I got what I expected. You (in the media) didn’t get what you expected.”
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