Much of this Kiffin has done to himself, of course. His all-around frigid demeanor, his treating of injury information like nuclear launch codes and, most of all, his inability to win consistently as a head coach have loomed large in the rapid deterioration of his reputation.
But he won’t be a head coach—the position he has failed miserably at thus far—and this cannot be hammered home enough. Kiffin will take over offensive coordinator duties at Alabama, a role he has experienced success with in the past. And perhaps more impactful, the nation’s paramount recruiting machine just hauled in one of the best salesman available.
The departure of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to Michigan left a vacancy, one that had Kiffin’s name immediately thrown into the discussion. The former USC coach logged hours with Nick Saban and the Alabama offense during the bowl season in a consulting role of sorts—although in hindsight, perhaps "internship" was more appropriate.
After rumors of interest and an interview began circulating, Alabama confirmed the hire of Kiffin as the team’s offensive coordinator.
Alabama football has hired Lane Kiffin to be its next offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. #RollTide— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) January 10, 2014
With the move official, Nick Saban had this to say on the hire, courtesy of TideSports.com:
"We are excited to have Lane join our staff. He 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. He coaches with a great deal of passion and enthusiasm, and also does an excellent job as a teacher. Lane will be an outstanding addition to our coaching staff and we look forward to him and his family joining us at the University of Alabama."
Here’s what we know about Kiffin at this point in his career, still just a coaching infant at the age of 38.
We know that—up until this point—he has shown no signs of being a quality head coach. That's the reality of the sample size given, which is remarkably limited. His brief stint with the Oakland Raiders, his stop at the University of Tennessee for a cup of coffee and his latest failure at USC provide little evidence that another try will offer up different results.
We also know that his attempts at being a head coach were struggles beyond simply inadequacies in the results department. He often wrestled with the media, and there was an uncomfortable insecurity in the way he operated. This didn’t help his case whatsoever. In large part, it helped sink him.
The checkmarks in the negative column are well documented at this point, but Kiffin still has value. You’ll have to dig past the laughter and unwillingness to accept it, but it still exists.
He served on the USC staff between 2001 and 2006, working as a position coach and eventually taking over as OC. In that time, he was one of the key figures on Pete Carroll’s staff that was responsible for one of the nation's most potent attacks.
He garnered a reputation as a deft play-caller, a trait that has since caught the eye of Saban. That's significant.
Saban is not one to make a hire just for the headlines. In fact, he’d much rather avoid such high-profile situations. By hiring Kiffin, he is taking on risk and the media baggage that will follow. The fact that he's willing to do so speaks volumes.
Perhaps the most intriguing attribute that Kiffin could add, however, is the trait that is not up for debate: his ability to recruit.
Operating under heavy scholarship limitations at USC, Kiffin was able to consistently attract marquee talent to the school. In joining Alabama—the nation’s most efficient recruiting program by a significant margin—Saban just picked up another living-room warrior.
#Alabama now has 4 former college HC's on staff- Lane Kiffin, Mario Cristobal, Kevin Steele, Bobby Williams— Charles Power (@CharlesGPower) January 10, 2014
How do you improve on consistently hauling in the No. 1 class in the country year after year? That’s how.
The move itself is a story because the two most polarizing coaches in college football will now be operating side-by-side. This is an Alabama beat reporter’s dream for the time being, but the excitement beyond the initial shock value will be short-lived.
If you’re looking for sound bites from Kiffin in his new digs, don’t expect it. This isn’t necessarily a Kiffin problem but rather something that comes with being one of Saban's assistants.
Andrew Gribble of the Birmingham News noted just how rare it was to see former offensive coordinator Nussmeier in front of the microphone.
Can't over-emphasize how little exposure Kiffin will get at Alabama. Nussmeier talked to reporters 4 times in 2 years.— Andrew Gribble (@Andrew_Gribble) January 10, 2014
This is what makes Alabama an ideal fit for Kiffin. Outside of inheriting a wealth of skill position talent, he’ll be able to operate mainly out of the spotlight. Instead of being the one to push buttons and cut certain wires, praying for results, he’ll be able to sit in the shadow of the nation’s most powerful coach.
That’s not a negative, either. Kiffin operating out of sight and out of mind, far away from the nearest microphone, proved to be wildly successful while he was at USC. And he'll be working with the game's ultimate teacher and the person who clearly cares less about his past failures than anyone on Earth.
Would you want Kiffin as your head coach? Not right now you wouldn't. But operating in a role he has thrived in before could breed different results.
That's the true significance of this decision. Alabama is not hiring a head coach; it is hiring an asset. And despite the mounds of criticism that can be seen for miles, Lane Kiffin remains just that.