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Kiffin: Alabama job has been ‘amazing opportunity,’ definitely returning in 2015

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NEW ORLEANS, La. — Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was damaged goods.

He had been very publicly fired from USC on the tarmac at LAX, was unemployed and didn’t have any idea what was next. He had proven his ability to land on his feet after leaving a job — or “failing upward” as many put it — but it wasn’t clear who would be willing to take a chance on him after a run off high profile failures.

Kiffin consulted for Alabama head coach Nick Saban prior to last season’s Sugar Bowl, something Saban does with countless coaches, so when then-Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier left Tuscaloosa for Ann Arbor, Kiffin was readily available and the strange marriage came together relatively quickly.

It has been an unqualified success.

Alabama’s offense has flourished under Kiffin, achieving the most prolific burst of production in the Tide’s storied history.

But while Kiffin has received much of the credit for Alabama’s surprisingly high octane offense, he deflects the praise onto Saban, who earlier today won the Bobby Dodd trophy for Coach of the Year.

“I get a lot of credit for this — that we play faster and we have 10 more plays a game — but that was not me, that was Coach Saban,” Kiffin said. “Even before I got here, in the interview process, in some phone conversations with him about potentially coming here, he kept saying, “I want to play faster. I want to give defenses more issues.'”

Giving defenses issues is exactly what Alabama has done all season. Prior to Kiffin’s arrival, the Tide’s offenses finished 33rd, 31st and 31st nationally in yards per game. Kiffin’s play-calling has resulted in an offense that ranks top 10 nationally in yardage and top 20 in total points and points per game. He’s sped up the time between plays and relentlessly targeted playmakers like wide receiver Amari Cooper, giving them a chance to shine.

“[Kiffin] has done a fantastic job for what we asked him to do as offensive coordinator,” Saban said. “I’m sure some of his head coaching experiences contributed to his ability to teach, handle players, do a good job organizing the staff — all the things that go into a good coordinator.”

If you’re surprised to hear Saban praising Kiffin for his organizational skills, you’ll probably be shocked to hear Kiffin lauding the notoriously singularly-focused Saban for making time for things unrelated to his team.

“He does all the other stuff so well,” Kiffin said. “It was a Thursday or Friday before a game — and his schedule has every minute of every day he’s got stuff to do, and as a head coach you understand that — and all of a sudden I’m looking for him and he’s meeting with a women’s tennis recruit.”

Under Saban, Kiffin has learned the art of delegation. Saban oversees the defense, but defensive coordinator Kirby Smart runs it. He has a stake in the offense, but it belongs to Kiffin. That’s a lesson Kiffin will take with him to his next head job.

“You’re hiring people to do a job, let them do it,” Kiffin said. “I don’t think I did a very good job of that, and I think I tried to do too much and you get spread too thin.”

As the Crimson Tide take on Ohio State on New Year’s Day in the Sugar Bowl semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Central on ESPN, Kiffin will be on the sidelines, getting feedback from Saban, guiding his offense, and enjoying the moment. And in response to whether he would return next season as the Alabama offensive coordinator, Kiffin said: “Yes, definitely.”

“I’ve been very fortunate to come here with [Saban]. I should pay him,” Kiffin said. “Think about all the coaches that call us to come visit, that want to come to camp for two days just to see what Saban does, and now I get to be inside of it for an entire year. It’s been an amazing opportunity.”

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