Nick Saban took the ultimate gamble in removing Lane Kiffin before the title game
If there was one word in the English language to best describe Nick Saban it’d be “savage.”
Whether it’s reaming out his own players on the sidelines, striking fear in every media member who crosses his path, or giving his own coaches self-described “ass chewings,” Saban has thrown down the gauntlet, time and time again. Nothing will get in the way of his team, and winning.
Yet after a career full of power plays, Saban pulled the ultimate boss move on Monday, announcing that Lane Kiffin was out at ‘Bama, effective immediately. Steve Sarkisian will call plays in the title game for Alabama, with Kiffin free to move on to his head coaching duties at Florida Atlantic full-time.
While it’s a surprising move, there were at least some signs of trouble in paradise. Alabama fans were wildly unhappy with Kiffin’s play-calling during Saturday’s national semifinal win over Washington, and according to FOX Sports’ Bruce Feldman, there had been issues bubbling in the Alabama coaching offices for weeks. Saban claimed that it was a “mutually agreed upon decision,” but most seem to believe that it was much closer to a “firing.”
Not shocked Nick Saban has made this move now.. Heard there was LOTS of drama inside the #Alabama program with Lane Kiffin in the past week.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) January 2, 2017
Now for starters, that’s not to say that this was the wrong move for Saban, and none of us – myself included – are really in any position to question the decision. If Saban truly believes Kiffin is a distraction, it was time for him to go. If there was really a belief that he was hurting the team more than helping it, then he needed to be removed.
At the same time, while Saban’s track record is pretty much unimpeachable at this point, I’ve got to ask: Am I the only one who realizes the magnitude of this decision? Am I the only one who realizes that Nick Saban just kicked his offensive coordinator to the curb, a week before Alabama plays… for a national championship?!?! Think about that for a second. Why is no one else talking about how insane that is?
Even if Kiffin had been a distraction the last few weeks, one thing that can’t be denied is his impact on the program. Keep in mind that prior to his arrival, the Crimson Tide offense had stalled and Saban hired him for the sole purpose of completely remaking it. Kiffin not only fulfilled those duties, but did it with an incredible degree of difficulty. In his three seasons as Alabama offensive coordinator, he had three different first-year starters at quarterback and also produced — and lost — a Heisman Trophy winner (Derrick Henry) and Bilitnekoff winner (Amari Cooper) in the process.
Despite that turnover, Saban unquestionably had the best regular season success of his coaching career with Kiffin calling his plays. Alabama won three straight SEC titles with Kiffin, and Saban had won just two SEC titles in the previous seven years without him.
The idea that the Crimson Tide offense will be able to seamlessly transition from Kiffin to Steve Sarkisian is unlikely, especially on such short notice.
Remember, Kiffin helped actively recruit a lot of the players on this offense and has coached some of them for up to three seasons. Sarkisian was completely out of football as recently as five months ago, and even after a few months on the job, how well can he really know this personnel? And remember, he’s not even being asked to coach them on Monday night. He’s being asked to call plays; to make split-second, push-of-the-button, do-or-die decisions, and to do it with players he barely knows.
Furthermore, unlike most new offensive coordinators, he isn’t being asked to make his debut in a meaningless September game, but instead, with a national championship on the line. And oh, by the way, in a national championship game where the Crimson Tide are facing an opponent that nearly beat them on the same stage last season.
The question now: Will it work out? Will the latest power play be the best of Saban’s career?
Or one that costs Alabama a national championship?