They don’t throw down in the pews at church. They aren’t likely to open The Undertow Pool at White Water. And, in the same determined vein, they don’t do turmoil at Alabama.
Which makes the little Lane Kiffin kerfuffel over in Tuscaloosa all the more entertaining – because it is just so out of character for the place. Nick Saban likes to keep things as smooth as a Marine’s bunk at inspection time. Any distraction is treated like the ultimate threat to his rule.
In retrospect, Saban made a risky (read that wrong) call keeping Kiffin around after his guy took the downward sloping career path to Florida Atlantic. This wasn’t Kirby Smart, the good soldier who last season juggled the Crimson Tide defensive coordinator job after having been hired by Georgia. In Kiffin, here was coaching’s version of a tagged hummingbird released from captivity – it’s going to dart off in any direction it pleases. Any thinking that he was capable of focusing on the needs of the Alabama offense once he lost any need to answer to Saban was wishful at best.
So, in the week leading up to the biggest game of the year, Alabama has a new offensive coordinator – Steve Sarkisian, who had been getting himself clean while watching game tape at Alabama.
To hear Saban, who was on a teleconference Tuesday afternoon, it is all business as usual around the happy-go-lucky coaching offices at Alabama. “I don’t think there’s a whole lot more to say about (the coaching drama),” he said. “Our coaches are working hard to try to put the best game plan we can together to play against a very good Clemson defense.”
And he just loved talking about this last-minute shift of his lieutenants.
Said Saban: “I don’t know why y’all keep asking me what changes we’re going to make (with the change at coordinator). (Clemson coach Dabo Swinney) is a good friend of mine – maybe I’ll just call him up and tell him what we’re going to do.”
And: “There’s no why. There’s no if. There’s no but. It just is what it is. We’re moving forward, so let’s talk about the game.”
As much as Saban would prefer to dismiss all this as inconsequential, there remains the question of what affect the change will have on Alabama come game time next Monday night. There is a new voice now in the ear of the Tide’s freshman quarterback. There are, with just one game to play, relationships to form (including the one between the head coach and the coordinator). And Clemson’s defense just took Ohio State’s soul.
Earlier in the day, Kiffin went on ESPN radio and said there were feelers out about allowing him in the Alabama coaches’ box for the national championship game. As if Saban would want to deal with that particular stick in the eye.
Dude, they want you to just go away. Just go to Boca and get in on some of that fine, inexpensive 4 p.m. dining. Or make a detour to a network studio for a bit off championship game analyst work – that would be some great reality TV.
Otherwise, if I were Clemson, I would take a small amount of joy in the discomfort that the Crimson Tide is undergoing now. Anything to throw off their methodical march. Anything to suggest a vulnerability where before there seemed none.
One effect: Under Sarkisian, Alabama is likely to show up Monday with a more circumspect game plan than the one Kiffin broke out in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Although Saban won’t call his buddy in South Carolina to confirm that.
But was this a real tipping point, especially in a game that matches up as beautifully as this?
Doubtful. If Clemson wins, it would seem particularly unfair to the Tigers – and galling in general – to say that it all came down to too little Lane Kiffin.