Lane Kiffin, the gift that keeps on giving. If you like headaches and heartburn, that is.
Kiffin is no longer on Nick Saban’s staff, unceremoniously dumped a week before the national championship game. Yet his shadow still lurks over Saban and Alabama and will continue to do so until Monday night’s title game is over – maybe longer, depending on the outcome.
And there’s not a thing the notoriously controlling Saban can do about it.
Sure, he can reject Kiffin’s ridiculous suggestion of hanging out in the press box with the other Alabama coaches. (Is Kiffin really that delusional, by the way?) But Saban cannot stop people from asking about Kiffin and the distractions his surprise departure created.
“I don’t have anything else to say about this. You know, we’re moving forward. We’re looking forward to the Clemson game,” an exasperated Saban said Tuesday on a teleconference to preview the College Football Playoff title game. “We did what we did for the reasons that I’ve stated many, many times before, and there’s really nothing else to talk about.
“There’s no why, there’s no if, there’s no but. It just is what it is,” he said. “The statement says what it is. We’re moving forward, so let’s talk about the game.”
Good luck with that.
Kiffin’s entire career has doubled as a soap opera – Riots! Airport firings! Twitter snark! – but this latest episode is worthy of a telenovela. Hired last month as Florida Atlantic’s head coach, he planned to stay on as Alabama’s offensive coordinator through the title game, much like former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart did last year after being hired at Georgia.
Then Kiffin came to the Peach Bowl and acted like a high school senior in his last month of school. Asked to recall “fun” he’d had with Saban, Kiffin joked that he could only remember “the ass chewings.” It got the intended laugh, but it also put Saban on the spot.
Even more unforgivable was his disjointed game plan against Washington. Despite Bo Scarbrough running over Washington like a steamroller, Kiffin went away from him for large chunks of the game.
By Monday, Saban and Kiffin had agreed that it would be better for all if Kiffin left Alabama immediately, allowing him to focus on his new job at FAU. Mind you, that’s “agreed” with all the sincerity of those Hollywood couples who announce their divorce while pledging to always be the best of friends. Nobody’s buying it, regardless of Kiffin telling ESPN Radio on Tuesday, “If I wanted to coach this game, I would have coached this game.”
Getting rid of Kiffin was the right move; Saban can’t afford to have anyone go rogue when the national title is at stake and Kiffin was checked out. But this type of sudden split just doesn’t happen in college football. Not with Saban, anyway.
This was going to be a big deal and Saban knew it. He also had to know that putting out a statement and answering a few questions on ESPN wouldn’t be the end of it. Especially not when Kiffin goes on a mini-media tour.
Yet it took all of four Kiffin questions on the teleconference for Saban to lose his cool. He’s going to get that many and more at Saturday’s media day, when he’ll be trapped like a caged animal on a podium for an hour while reporters cycle in and out.
Of course Saban would rather talk about something, anything, else. But he’s not going to be given that choice. How he answers, and the tone with which he does it, will determine whether the story dies until the game or flares anew.
“It’s only fair to the players who have worked hard on both teams to have an opportunity to play in a great, competitive venue, and that’s what we’d like to talk about,” Saban said.
It’s too late for that.
Saban is rid of Kiffin. But he hasn’t heard the last of him.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.