Lane Kiffin out, Steve Sarkisian in as Alabama Offensive Coordinator. What Does It All Mean?
Lane Kiffin off to “focus on new head coaching job at Florida Atlantic.” What does it all mean for Alabama and the College Football Playoff National Championship?
Lane Kiffin out, Steve Sarkisian in? Why do this now?
It might not have been a perfect offensive showing in the Peach Bowl, but Alabama did win by 17 – yeah, the D had something to do with that – against a College Football Playoff-worthy defense full of future NFL starters. The ground game ran for 269 yards, but the passing attack only went for 57 with absolutely nothing happening down the field.
But it’s obviously more than that.
On the field, Alabama struggled way too much to put the game away. Bad things happened when Jalen Hurts tried throwing the ball, with the offense not going anywhere, and time and time again, the O stalled in the third quarter despite consistently great field position.
Off the field, Kiffin was becoming a distraction.
The media around the Peach Bowl focused on him, his relationship with Nick Saban, and how it was possible to put together a team at a new job with a new program and still remain focused on beating Clemson. There wasn’t an issue last year when Kirby Smart stayed on for the national title after being named the Georgia head coach, but Alabama also erased Michigan State in the CFP semifinal.
Kiffin already knew he was on the way out, and he managed to talk openly and honestly in Atlanta. You don’t and can’t do that at Alabama, even if you didn’t have fun, and even if it’s a hard gig working for Saban.
And Saban fixed the glitch.
Steve Sarkisian’s role
After the Peach Bowl, Sarkisian was standing off to the side watching the celebration and taking it all in. He’d talk, but he wouldn’t do any interviews or go on camera.
“There’s only one voice on this team.”
However, several players were running by giving Sarkisian respect and congratulations – I heard several congratulating and thanking him.
Kiffin is an elite coach, but there’s no drop-off here. Sarkisian knows the team – he’s been around the team since early on this year – and he knows the offense.
Sarkisian was going to be the offensive coordinator going into next year, and now the timetable has been moved up a game – that’s all, and it’s going to be okay.
The guy’s one of the elite offensive coaches in the business – Alabama won’t fall off the map in the transition. But …
This will be epic if Alabama loses
It’s Alabama. It’ll focus, it’ll rally, and it’ll use its massive offensive line and great defense to do what Alabama does. But if Clemson manages to play like it did in Glendale vs. Ohio State, and if it comes up with a defensive gem, it’ll get some credit, but this will obviously be the post-mortem narrative.
It won’t be Kiffin’s fault if Alabama loses the national championship, and if this O stalls, Sarkisian will be a punching bag.
Make no mistake about it – this is a big-risk moment for Sarkisian. This might be Saban’s best Alabama team yet, and there haven’t been any real blips along the way. Kiffin’s stock would only go up if the offense falls flat in Tampa.
Gut-feeling on how this will fly
It’ll be a positive.
As much as Saban despises distractions, and as much as he’ll hate talking about this all week in Tampa, it’s perfect. It’s a moment to bring the team together, and with the way some are going to start picking Clemson to win this, Saban play the disrespect card.
You don’t think the Alabama players are going to want to prove that it wasn’t Kiffin who made the O go?
In terms of the play-calling, expect more power running, and nothing cute. If Bo Scarbrough is running like he did against Washington, he’s going to keep being fed the ball.
The receivers will be utilized more in easy plays on the move – there won’t be as much wasted movement – and Hurts will take off more. Saban never really liked the tempo game as much as the ball-control pounding attack, and now Sarkisian should do more of that, own the clock, and not get funky in any way.
At least that’s the best guess. Now watch Hurts come out and look like Aaron Rodgers with a 300-yard passing day.
But here’s the thing. If the Alabama offense doesn’t work, no, it won’t be because Kiffin isn’t coaching. It’ll be because Clemson is that good – even if that’s not the narrative.