TUSCALOOSA — Nick Saban has been in Lane Kiffin’s shoes, making the transition from head coach back to being a coordinator.
Back in 1990, Saban spent one year as the head coach at Toledo before returning to the NFL to be the Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick.
So Saban realizes that these past seven months have been a bit of an adjustment for his new offensive coordinator.
“As soon as you get used to being the boss, and then you’re not the boss anymore, it’s a transition, I don’t care who it’s for,” Saban said. “All of a sudden you can’t say when everybody gets to go home. It’s just different. But he’s done a really good job for us, the players respond to him well, he’s a good teacher, he’s smart, he’s a good coach. So far, so good.”
This coming season will be Kiffin’s first as a coordinator since 2006. He was the Oakland Raiders coach from 2007-2008, spent the 2009 season as the head coach at Tennessee before bolting to USC in 2010. He was fired from USC last fall.
Kiffin is one of four coaches on Saban’s staff with head coaching experience.
“I think anytime anybody has knowledge and experience, it certainly contributes a lot of value in your organization,” Saban said. “I think it kind of goes both ways. I think you learn a little from them, I think they learn a little from you. I think you can make subtle changes in what you do to make it more effective because of the input you get from your staff.
“The more experience that your staff has, obviously I think the better they understand the big picture and have the kind of foresight that you need to have that you know when you make changes, what the cause and effect of those changes are going to be. Lane certainly has been helpful in a lot of those areas.”
Wide receivers Christion Jones and Amari Cooper both said Kiffin took time to meet with the offensive players when he arrived at Alabama to get to know the team.
Jones said Kiffin relates “very well” to the players and that his experiences at Tennessee and USC help him “understand what type of standard we set here at Alabama.”
“I think the big thing he’s taught me is to pay attention to the small things on the defense which can get you open and find different ways to get open,” Jones said. “He teaches us what the quarterback is looking at, what his reads are, which makes it better for you to get open and play fast.
“Other than that, his tempo and what he brings to the table, his intensity every practice. He’s mobile, he’s always ready to go. It motivates you and gets you ready to go. He’ll keep you on your toes.”
During spring practice, players praised Kiffin for his offensive creativity. Cooper called Kiffin’s offense “player friendly” and said Kiffin focuses on getting the ball in the hands of his playmakers.
Cooper acknowledged that the offense won’t be too different and that the system hasn’t “changed dramatically” because Alabama is still a Saban-led team. But he did commend Kiffin for the wrinkles he’d added and his personality.
“I think Coach Kiffin takes advantage of match-ups,” Cooper said. “I think he has a good sense of what it’s like to be an offensive coordinator. He’s a very calm person and brings that calmness to the team when things get serious and when you are battling for a national championship every year.”