Lane Kiffin has had a front-row seat to the mastermind that is Nick Saban for three years now.
As Alabama’s offensive coordinator, Kiffin has watched the Crimson Tide improve and evolve each year, a rise that has resulted in three Southeastern Conference championships, three trips to the College Football Playoff and the potential now to win a second consecutive national championship in that three-year span.
It’s also provided the 41-year-old Kiffin the chance to once again become a head coach, as he accepted the position at Florida Atlantic on Dec. 12.
But his individual benefits are on hold for now.
“In my mind,” Kiffin said, “I work for Alabama.”
He said he’ll work on getting his plans for his future school in line during his down time this week, usually a late-night affair when he’s not helping Alabama (13-0) prepare for its matchup against fourth-ranked Washington (12-1) in Saturday’s Peach Bowl.
But when he’s on the clock, Kiffin’s sole focus is solving a turnover-happy Washington defense and putting the Crimson Tide in place to win its second national title in a row.
The Huskies lead the nation in total turnovers forced (33) and turnover margin (plus-21).
Saban compared the Huskies secondary to that of the Seattle Seahawks.
“They don’t make a lot of mistakes,” he said. “... They do a great job of executing the things that they play and do a great job of breaking on the ball, reading the quarterback’s eyes, and that’s why they have made a lot of plays on the ball.”
But after Alabama’s postseason run comes to an end — whether that comes with another national championship or a loss along the way — Kiffin will be done in Tuscaloosa and be ready to take over a Florida Atlantic program that has gone 18-42 over the past five years and has not reached a bowl game since 2008.
Kiffin rejected the rumors that he’s leaving simply because he has another opportunity to be a head coach.
“They’re committed to doing things different than they’ve done before,” Kiffin said, “and they really want to win championships and do everything that it takes to do that.”
Kiffin had that mentality at Alabama, where he helped the Crimson Tide field two of its top three offenses in program history.
In 2014, Kiffin’s first season in Tuscaloosa, Alabama posted a school-best 484.5 yards per game. This year, the Crimson Tide is averaging 471.3 yards per game heading into the Peach Bowl.
“He does a great job of just creating plays week in and week out,” senior tight end O.J. Howard said. “He’s got new plays every week. He can draw up a new play at halftime. He takes a good bit of the credit for it. I know we have to go out and execute, but he does a great job of putting us in place.”
Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts remembered Kiffin coming to his high school in Channelview, Texas, during his senior year for a workout.
Hurts impressed, and he was offered a scholarship shortly afterward.
Once he committed to Alabama, Hurts said his dad told him to make the most of his time with Kiffin.
“He’s going to leave in a few weeks, so use him while you can,” Hurts remembered his dad jokingly telling him.
Replacing Kiffin as Alabama’s offensive coordinator will be Steve Sarkisian, a former head coach at USC (2014-15) and Washington (2009-13).
“He’ll do a great job with Coach [Saban],” Kiffin said. “Coach talked to me about it, and I think in some ways he’ll do a much better job than I do with Coach.”