Lane Kiffin will not remain on staff at Alabama through the national championship game against Clemson, and Nick Saban said it’s because the offensive coordinator had trouble with the distractions of his new job at Florida Atlantic.
Steve Sarkisian will immediately take over as the Crimson Tide’s new offensive coordinator for the national title game.
The news broke just before Nick Saban was scheduled to appear on ESPN on Monday. He said he and Kiffin came to a “mutual agreement” after meetings Sunday and Monday.
“Well, we recognize that this is a very difficult circumstance in terms of the sort of distractions you have,” Saban said. “I’ve been through it myself when I was with the Cleveland Browns, taking the Michigan State job. I think it’s a really tough management. We just thought it was in the best interest of our players, our program, and for Lane, to assume his responsibilities as the head coach at Florida Atlantic.”
ESPN’s Rece Davis asked Saban what led to the decision. Saban pointed to “the way we went about the last game” against Washington in the Peach Bowl.
“Whether it was the preparation, the practice, being able to focus on what we needed to do for our team relative to the distractions that occur when you’re trying to hire a staff and recruit (at) another place. All these types of things,” Saban said. “And you know, hey, Lane did the best he could. It’s a difficult circumstance. We certainly wish him well.”
Kiffin received plenty of criticism for his game plan against the Huskies, particularly for his failure to get the ball to RB Bo Scarbrough until late in the game.
The Crimson Tide play Clemson next Monday, Jan. 9, at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.
More on the staff change from Saban’s appearance on ESPN:
On whether Sarkisian will call plays against Clemson:
“Yeah, Sark has already been named offensive coordinator. He’s been with us all season long and really knows the offense. The players really know him. So we’re hopeful that this will be a really smooth transition for us, and Sark will just assume that responsibility.”
On the primary challenge in changing play-callers so close to the title game:
“I think the most important thing is that we do a good job of preparing our players for what to expect in the game. What we’re going to do in the game, how we’re going to execute it. Get the repetitions on it. We all need to focus on what we need to do a week from today in terms of playing Clemson, which is an outstanding team. Probably, the way they’re playing right now, as good as anybody in the country (on) offense, defense and special teams. So we thought this would give us the best opportunity, our players the best opportunity, to be successful. And we’re looking forward to the challenge that we have in the national championship game.”
On what the most significant difference will be with Alabama’s offense with Sarkisian calling plays:
“I think what you guys sort of miss here is you really plan what you’re going to do and what plays you’re going to call by what formations and what situations (you face) in the game, whether it’s in the red zone or third down. I mean that stuff all gets planned during the course of the week so that players have an expectation of what you’re going to call and what you’re going to do in every situation in the game. And that’s what we’ll practice, and that’s what we’ll get our players prepared for. So I don’t think that we’re going to change our offense. We’re not going to change our terminology. We’re just going to have a different guy choosing what to dial up in each one of those situations. But those things will be practiced so that our players are prepared to be able to execute the best that they can.”
On if Alabama will have a different strategy or approach, particularly with the running game, with Sarkisian calling plays:
“No, I think that, you know, we are who we are. We played 14 games this season. Our team has evolved from trying to play with a freshman quarterback who’s made significant progress throughout the year to make sure that guy’s comfortable and confident in what he needs to do to be able to execute in this game. And we’re going to continue to have that philosophy and try to create a balance in our offense, run and pass, that is going to give our players the best chance to be successful.”