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He’s the one man football fans everywhere love to hate more than Johnny Fucking Football. A polarizing figure as renowned for his offensive philosophy as the notches in his bed post. The coach formerly known as “Joey Freshwater” — Lane Kiffin.
The son of the father of the now extinct Tampa Two defense, Monte Kiffin, Lane ascended to the highest levels of football before his 30th birthday, forming the ultimate tandem as Co-Offensive Coordinator during the Pete Carroll USC era with Steve Sarkisian. Can you fucking imagine what that was like? Wow.
With Coach Carroll in the midst of his spot on Oprah Winfrey impersonation (“you get a house! “You get a car!”), the Trojan offense powered a five-year stretch as successful as any in the history of modern college football.
Lane, amazingly considered the “less abrasive” USC Coordinator, became the youngest NFL head coach ever when he took the reigns of the still floundering Raiders franchise in the midst of a patented Al Davis house cleaning of the staff and roster.
Kiffin, who rivals only Marvin Lewis as the greatest negotiator in coaching history (think about it), reportedly beat out the Raiders quarterback coach for the position, current Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh.
To say Kiffin’s time in Oakland was tumultuous would be an understatement. From openly being called a “liar” by owner Al Davis, to begging management not to select historic bust Jamarcus Russell #1 overall, and finally refusing to resign (resulting in a law suit, filed by Kiffin, for wrongful termination), Lane made his mark on the Raiders in less than two seasons.
Somehow, however, Kiffin’s reputation only grew stronger. Shortly after leaving the Raiders, Kiffin was hired as the head football coach at the University of Tennessee following the unceremonious forced resignation of former icon Phillip Fulmer (that worked out well, didn’t it Vols?).
After one fascinating season, in which Kiffin publicly (and incorrectly) asserted recruited violations against Urban Meyer, befuddled Nick Saban by calling almost 2/3 running plays against the vaunted Crimson Tide defense, and came a field goal away from defeating both Florida and Alabama, Lane was gone again; This time amidst rioting Tennessee students and players, blindsided by the man who had just named his first-born son “Knox” in honor of Knoxville, Tennessee bolting after just 9 months on the job. But USC was his “dream job,” and most outside of Billy Crockett’s home state understood.
The USC tenure was a series of ups and downs. Similar to his previous stops, reports of “fraternizing” with co-eds reared their head on several occasions, some going so far as to claim Kiffin kept an apartment on campus specifically to provide a discrete location for extra-marital affairs.
On top of that, Kiffin’s old boss did Lane and the University of Southern California no favors in his exit, bolting as NCAA sanctions loomed on the horizon. USC, perhaps the hardest hit by scholarship restrictions since SMU in the ’80s (this was before the Penn State fiasco) lost nearly a quarter of their roster to financial aid restrictions.
Undeterred, Kiffin managed to sign 4 consecutive top 10 overall recruiting classes while signing an average of 10 fewer players per season than the average Power 5 class. After winning 10 games, including a 7-game winning streak to end Kiffin’s second season, and with the return of Heisman hopeful Matt Barkley, the Trojans entered Kiffin’s third year as the pre-season #1.
But a lack of depth and defensive miscues doomed the Trojans, as they became the first pre-season #1 to ever end the season unranked, suffering the worst record for a USC team since the pre-Carroll era. After the 5th game of the following season, a drubbing in Tempe at the hands of a mediocre Arizona State team, Athletic Director Pat Haden fired Kiffin.
Many thought this was the end of the brash, still somehow young, visor-wearing coach. He had become a punchline, the poster child of nepotism in the coaching ranks, driving the narrative of an immature, arrogant charlatan riding on the coattails of his familial accomplishments, not his own.
So when Nick Saban brought in Kiffin as an “offensive consultant,” the college football world, namely the insane callers on the Paul Finebaum show, were flummoxed. How could Nick Saban, the notoriously conservative “3 yards and a cloud of dust” curmudgeon, who hated media interaction to such an extent that he banned all assistant coaches from in-season interviews, consider handing the keys to the mighty Tide offense to this asshole?
This is why Nick Saban is our generation’s Bear Bryant, and we mere mortals read TFM to survive our days as faceless paper pushers. Following Brady Hoke’s poaching of Offensive Coordinator Doug Nussmeier (QUACK), Saban officially named Kiffin Offensive Coordinator and Associate Head Coach.
While prognosticators such as Colin Cowherd mused as to whether or not St. Nick had finally lost his marbles, Kiffin went to work restructuring the Crimson Tide offense. With a converted defensive back under center, Kiffin led the 2014/2015 Tide to the greatest offensive season in the rich history of Alabama, calling more plays out of the shotgun, Saban’s dreaded no-huddle, and pass plays than at any time in the Saban tenure. And it worked.
After making the inaugural College Football Playoff in his first season, Kiffin led Florida State castoff Jake Coker and the Crimson Tide offense to its greatest statistical season. Utilizing Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry in a balanced attack, they were unstoppable in the 2016 Playoffs against the vaunted Michigan State and Clemson defenses.
Kiffin, the much-maligned man-child with the Spurrier visor and supposed bad attitude, had orchestrated a national championship offense.
This offseason, Kiffin flirted with accepting several head coaching positions, perhaps most notably (and this is, of course, based in rumor, as neither party would admit explicitly) Illinois. Instead, perhaps finally showing a semblance of maturity, choosing to stay in Tuscaloosa for at least another season of tutelage under Saban.
If I’m a fan of a middling SEC, BIG 10, ACC, or PAC 12 program, I’m praying Kiffin is listening next off-season. He is without a doubt one of the greatest offensive minds in the game, a championship caliber recruiter, and reliable enough to have earned the trust and respect of two of the greatest coaches on this planet: Nick Saban and Pete Carroll.
Kiffin is still under 40, and perhaps finally ready to guide a marquee program, or sleeping giant, to the sort of stretch of success Tennessee and USC had hoped for.
What has happened to Lane Kiffin is a side effect of the decay of our society. People “born rich” are quickly maligned, with their accomplishments discounted, and looked at with incessant disdain. Perhaps elevated too quickly, Kiffin has, perhaps, the most impressive resume of any coordinator in college football, yet far lesser candidates such as former Michigan Defensive Coordinator DJ Durkin, are given prominent jobs (Durkin is now the Head Coach of Maryland) before Kiffin, without substantive reason.
Kiffin may not be the most likable guy on earth, but he is a hell of a football coach. Next offseason, somebody is going to roll the dice on him, and win big. Can you hear me, Purdue?.