Alabama Football: Lane Kiffin Hire Represents Positive Step for Tide Offense

Brian MaziqueCorrespondent IIIJanuary 10, 2014

TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 28:  Head coach Lane Kiffin of the USC Trojans watches from the sidelines during the college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on September 28, 2013 in Tempe, Arizona.  The Sun Devils defeated the Trojans 62-41.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Change is good.

For years it seemed the Alabama Crimson Tide and its now legendary head coach, Nick Saban would be dragged kicking and screaming into a more balanced offense. 

Perhaps the tantrum is over.

Every season, every opponent knew, the Tide was going to run the ball down team's throats with studly running backs and huge offensive lines. It's defense would be stout and the team would have a game manager of sorts under center.

AJ McCarron proved to be a bit more than that, but that was an example of succeeding beyond his job description. While some aspects of that picture aren't likely to be altered, the role and development of the quarterbacks in Tuscaloosa could be set to change.

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 23:  Head coach Nick Saban and AJ McCarron #10 of the Alabama Crimson Tide look on in the final mintues of their 49-0 win over the Chattanooga Mocs at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 23, 2013 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by K
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

For the most part, Bama's formula has worked. The program has won two of the last three national championships. But being the proactive and masterful football mind that he is, Saban sees how more balanced offenses like Florida State's are having success. It doesn't appear to be a trend that is likely to change—especially since it is also the way of the NFL.

On Friday, Saban hired the well-traveled Lane Kiffin to be his offensive coordinator and quarterback's coach. He replaces Doug Nussmeier who took the same position with the Michigan Wolverines.

The hire seems a bit peculiar for two reasons.

It's been awhile since Kiffin's name has been associated with success. He had unsuccessful stints as a head coach at USC (by program's standards), Tennessee and in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders. Kiffin's combined coaching record at those stops is an underwhelming 40-36.

He hasn't quite been the man to oversee the careers of successful quarterbacks. Kiffin has had a hand in the "progress" of Jamarcus Russell, Matt Leinart, Jonathan Crompton and Matt Barkley in recent years. That's not an overly impressive list, though the jury is still out on Barkley.

Even with these potential red flags, hiring Kiffin was a positive move. ESPN's Mike Greenberg agrees.

His shortcomings as a head coach aren't really relevant as an offensive coordinator. When Kiffin has had talent on offense—and that's been his primary concern—he's produced. His offenses have been equally as adept through the air as they were in the run game.

In 2005, when Kiffin was the offensive coordinator at USC, his offense had a 3,000-yard passer (Leinart), two 1,000-yard rushers (Reggie Bush and LenDale White) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Dwayne Jarrett).

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 04:  Reggie Bush #5 walks past quarterback Matt Leinart #11 of the USC Trojans during the first half of the BCS National Championship Rose Bowl Game against the Texas Longhorns at the Rose Bowl on January 4, 2006 in Pasadena, Califo
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

As great as Bama has been over the last five years, none of its offenses has had such balance. In fact, no Alabama team has ever had a 3,000 passer and a receiver and running back eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.

Saban said this of Kiffin's hire, per Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports:

[Kiffin] is an outstanding and creative offensive coach who has great experience both at the college and NFL level. He has a very good understanding of the game and I have always been impressed with what I saw in the games he called.

Because of the recruiting power Alabama has, it will get Kiffin the type of elite level talent he had at USC. Armed with those studs, his offenses will have more depth than any of the Tide's previous attacks.

As this becomes commonplace in Alabama, quarterbacks who are touted as more than just game managers as preps will begin to look Bama's way. Kiffin's NFL experience can serve as validation to young quarterbacks that he can help develop them for play on the next level.

With Kiffin's influence, the offense could evolve into something more balanced and NFL-like. The latter quality will make Bama more attractive to top Pro-Style quarterbacks, and thus even more of a dominant program in recruiting and overall.


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