Just hours before college football’s biggest day of bowl games, Alabama dominated the headlines as Nick Saban told ESPN the school and Lane Kiffin had “mutually agreed to part ways”. On the surface, this seems like a normal decision given Kiffin had taken the head coaching job at Florida Atlantic.
For those that follow Saban, you know that this announcement coming one week before the title game is out of character. Saban referred to the “distractions” that had surrounded the team with Kiffin’s mind being split between two different programs. In an effort to rid the program of said distractions, it has become an even bigger story in the days leading up to the championship game.
Steve Sarkisian’s first game as Alabama’s play-caller will be in the national title game. This is a decision that is unlike Saban and points to the likelihood that there is more going on behind the scenes. While all parties involved hope Sarkisian will make the most of his second chance, he is a year removed from admitting he had an alcohol problem that played a role in his dismissal as USC head coach.
In an interview on The Paul Finebaum Show Kiffin denied that he had been forced out by Saban. “As we discussed it, [I] just felt like Sark and I are so similar, we kind of speak the same language, call games the same way, that he would probably give us the best chance to win because 100 percent of his mind all day long is on the game. I’m still going to help in any way that I can,” Kiffin told Finebaum (via AL.com).
The decision contradicts how Alabama has handled similar situations in the past. In 2011, Jim McElwain took the Colorado State head coaching job but remained at Alabama through the BCS Championship Game against LSU. More recently, Kirby Smart took the head coaching job at Georgia but remained as Alabama’s defensive coordinator through the Crimson Tide’s title game against Clemson.
For those reading between the lines, the advantage of having Kiffin no longer with the team became greater than what he was adding to Alabama’s championship hopes. Kiffin missed the team bus prior to a Peach Bowl media session and the offensive game plan against Washington was underwhelming at best. Alabama had just 57 passing yards in the game and scored its second lowest point total of the season, a total that was inflated by a defensive pick-six.
It would be no surprise if this all is part of the “process” for Saban as the Crimson Tide lift another trophy on Monday against Clemson. Right now, the Kiffin saga leaves Alabama with more questions than answers just days before kickoff of the biggest college football game of the season.