Teams Most Likely to Pursue Lane Kiffin for Head Coaching Job
As we hurtle toward the midpoint of the 2014 college football season, we’re coming up on the sweet spot of another intriguing season: the hot-seat season.
With just under two months left in the season, athletic directors across America are doing the math on contract buyouts and diving into their iPhone contacts and Rolodexes to gauge what might happen if they fire a coach. SB Nation's Adam Jacobi says a number of coaches are already on the hot seat.
Two programs have already joined the hunt: SMU’s June Jones resigned following a disastrous start, and Kansas canned Charlie Weis following two-plus unspectacular seasons. By late December, many more will have joined their ranks, looking for the candidate who’ll elevate their program among the college football elite.
One of the most intriguing potential candidates? Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Following his public flameout at Southern California, the controversial Kiffin has begun rehabbing his image as Nick Saban’s offensive play-caller.
Although last week’s 23-17 loss at Ole Miss was a setback, the Crimson Tide’s offense has been impressively balanced with a solid downfield passing element. Alabama averages 314.2 passing yards per game (No. 24 nationally) and 240.4 rushing yards per game (No. 22 nationally).
If Alabama continues on this trajectory, Kiffin will receive some interest in his services this winter. If he’s interested in leaving Tuscaloosa after one season, here are some programs who’ll be interested in his services.
If this isn’t the end for Norm Chow in Honolulu, it sure looks like it. Chow was 4-20 at Hawaii entering this season, and the Warriors have limped to a 1-4 start, with the only victory a 27-24 triumph over FCS foe Northern Iowa.
Following June Jones’ departure for SMU, the Warriors have slipped from a mid-major power that made a BCS bowl game to a doormat of the Mountain West Conference. They average 19.8 points per game (No. 113 nationally) and 188 passing yards per game (No. 102 nationally). Somewhere, Timmy Chang shakes his head in disgust.
Hawaii needs an infusion of energy, and Kiffin’s passing game could provide just that. He wouldn’t be expected to win immediately, but Kiffin might be just the spark this struggling program needs.
Tim Beckman was on the hot seat entering this season, and Illinois’ 3-3 start has done nothing to cool the fires lapping under the third-year coach’s seat. Beckman needed to make progress this season. Following an embarrassing home loss to Purdue, Illinois still has Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State and Northwestern on the schedule, making a bowl appearance unlikely.
If the Fighting Illini are seeking a change after this season, Kiffin could be a good fit in Champaign. While transfer quarterback Wes Lunt will miss four to six weeks with a broken ankle, per the Chicago Tribune's Shannon Ryan, he has been sharp when on the field this fall, throwing 13 touchdowns against three interceptions.
Top receivers Mike Dudek and Geronimo Allison will both return next season, leaving a potent passing game for Beckman’s replacement.
Illinois has had no problem with giving high-profile head coaches a second chance in the past (see Zook, Ron). Kiffin’s passing offense could be just what the Illini need.
Kansas has long been one of college football’s most difficult jobs, and the Jayhawks have enjoyed little success in recent years, save the Mark Mangino era. Following a 23-0 home loss to Texas, KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger decided he’d seen enough of Charlie Weis, canning Weis with a 6-22 career record.
The Jayhawks will be looking for a new head coach barring a stunning turnaround from interim head coach Clint Bowen. Last time around, they took a chance on a former high-profile head coach who was an offensive coordinator at an SEC program, plucking Weis from Florida. Would they be interested in Kiffin’s resume? It wouldn’t be surprising.
Now, the question: Would Kiffin be interested in Kansas? The Big 12 is one of college football’s toughest leagues, and Kansas resides squarely at the bottom. If Kiffin wound up in Lawrence, he’d need a long commitment. This will be no short-term turnaround.
Last winter, Brady Hoke raided the Alabama staff for a move that he hoped would revitalize Michigan’s program, hiring Doug Nussmeier as his new offensive coordinator. That move hasn’t worked out. At all.
With a leaky offensive line and a lack of solid quarterback play, the Wolverines offense has struggled mightily. Michigan is 2-4 and averaging 22.3 points per game (No. 104 nationally) while putting up just 173.2 passing yards per game (No. 109 nationally).
Hoke has received serious criticism for his handling of quarterback Shane Morris’ concussion, and the Wolverines still have Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State left on the schedule. Hoke is on the hot seat.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if athletic director Dave Brandon decided to make a change this winter.
If so, why not take a look at Kiffin? His passing offense would be a refreshing change in staid Ann Arbor, and Kiffin’s verbal tiffs while at Tennessee prove that he isn’t afraid to stand up for his program against its rivals. Kiffin vs. Ohio State and Urban Meyer—a man he (wrongly) accused of cheating while Meyer was at Florida—would be a fascinating dynamic.
Why is Mississippi State on this list, you say? At 5-0, the Bulldogs are riding high in the Top Five of both polls following back-to-back Top 10 upsets of LSU and Texas A&M. Clearly, Dan Mullen is in no danger of being fired.
But with potential high-profile openings at Florida and Michigan on tap, Mullen’s name will be bandied about. ESPN Insider Travis Haney (subscription required) says he'll be a candidate.
If Florida gets rid of struggling Will Muschamp, it would hardly be stunning if athletic director Jeremy Foley came calling for Mullen, who served as Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator from 2005-08 and helped UF to three national titles while mentoring Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.
If Mullen jumps from Starkville, where would the Bulldogs turn? They could do worse than Kiffin, who has energy, a high-powered offense and knowledge of the SEC and the SEC West. It’s unclear if MSU would be interested in Kiffin, but he’d be an intriguing fit at the Bulldogs’ helm.
June Jones revamped SMU’s program after leaving Hawaii, taking the Mustangs to four consecutive bowl games and just missing a fifth last fall, going 5-7 while losing a pair of games by less than four points. But the Mustangs have fallen off a cliff this fall. After losing the first two games by a combined score of 89-6, Jones resigned. The Dallas Morning News' Tim Cowlishaw says Jones left a mess behind.
SMU is 0-5 and has been outscored by an average of 49.4-7.2. It’s unlikely that any sitting head coach would leave to take this position, but a power five offensive coordinator could be a strong target. An OC with Texas ties like Clemson’s Chad Morris would be a strong candidate, per Football Scoop reports (h/t Patrick Vint of SB Nation), but if Kiffin wants to rehab his image, there are worse places to do it than SMU.
The Mustangs have displayed a commitment to football. They just need a coach that lives up to their standards.