TUSCALOOSA — We got a glimpse of the latest incarnation of Lane Kiffin on Sunday.
The digital tape recorder says it lasted 13 minutes, 53 seconds, but we glimpsed of a guy who sees himself stepping back in his career.
It’s a forced step back, but he wants to back-learn after head-coaching gigs with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, Tennessee and Southern Cal told him he’s doing this all wrong.
From whom better to learn than the never unsuccessful Nick Saban, the guy often credited with reinventing the word “process”? Who better than the detail-oriented coaching doctor who knows Kiffin’s history and game-planned Kiffin’s one media appearance this year.
“So, yeah, I’m sitting here every day, learning stuff from him,” Kiffin said. “We already met this morning, so he made sure I didn’t say anything that would be on the ticker.”
At least Kiffin can joke about it, and we can take this rehabbing-coach thing too far.
Saban didn’t hire Kiffin to right him for his next head-coaching gig. Kiffin was hired to right what was wrong with an Alabama offense loaded beyond imagination with skill people but not so imaginative in using them.
When Kiffin isn’t leaning in — and inching dangerously close to Yoda’s Little Debbies — he’s doing his job. A few hints about that arose Sunday.
“There’s a lot more stuff for us to do,” tight end Brian Vogler said. “The tight end is crucial in this offense, whether it be setting the edge or occupying space in the middle to open up things for other guys.
“I think my distance traveled, I guess you would say, has expanded a little bit more, going from a guy who probably had 5- to 7-yard routes to it’s probably somewhere between 5- to 15-yard routes now.”
What’s more, Kiffin seems to have won the hearts and minds he needs to win.
“I love Coach Kiffin. That’s my man,” wide receiver DeAndrew White said. “He brings a different style of offense to this program, and I love it. You never know who is going to get the ball or what formation we’ll be in with him, so it’s surprising.”
“He just gets the ball in playmakers’ hands, that West Coast style of getting the ball to who he’s supposed to get the ball to,” White said. “Formation wise, he has everybody everywhere. You can’t just sit in one spot. Everybody is all over the place.”
But as of 13:54 on the recorder, Kiffin was back into his hiding place, retooling Alabama’s offense and rehabbing his career.
Try to fathom it. The brash prodigy we remember from his frienemy-making, head-coaching meltdowns could emerge someday sounding like Saban.
Not totally, of course. Even in the context of Kiffin’s near-14 minutes of controlled exposure Sunday, the caged animal playfully half-charged the bars.
“Took a long time for the Knoxville question,” he joked after the seventh question.
But it’s clear that Kiffin sees there was an error in his head-coaching ways. His tarmac tarring at USC forced him to see it and gave him the chance to do something about it.
“As you make mistakes, the No. 1 thing you better do from them is learn from them and not just make excuses for them,” he said. “I’ve made more than anybody, probably.”
So, he spent eight days consulting with Alabama’s offense during Sugar Bowl practice. He swears he didn’t know it could be an audition, but he saw Saban’s process in motion.
The old Lane Kiffin saw the potential for a new Lane Kiffin.
“I saw what I’m now seeing even more about the commitment and the dedication and the hard work and the way he approaches every day, from the coaches down to the players and throughout the entire building,” he said. “This is a place that is completely committed to winning and to playing extremely well and working really hard, and that’s what you see every day here.
“It was amazing to see the style of practice, and how physical practice was, and how the players responded to it. There were no players who were trying to take themselves out.”
And no coaches out of line.