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Saban pulls a Belichick, instructs Kiffin to coach from sideline instead of press box

Alabama offensive coordinator calls plays as USC's head coach during the 2012 Sun Bowl
Alabama offensive coordinator calls plays as USC’s head coach during the 2012 Sun Bowl

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Normally with a new assistant coach in a new environment, steps are taken to ease them into a system and let them feel things out slowly. But Alabama coach Nick Saban has decided to push new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin out of his comfort zone in the press box and put him where the action is down on the sideline.

“We’re going to put him on the field,” Saban said. “I always let the coordinators be where they want to be, but, in this case, even though he felt more comfortable being in the press box, I think it’s important that he is on the field. He has the greatest impact and effect on the players.”

Every offensive coordinator under Saban at Alabama — Major Applewhite, Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier — has called plays from the press box. Kiffin has historically been no different, calling USC’s plays from the press box during his last stint as an offensive coordinator.

But with the battle for quarterback still very much in play, Kiffin should be on the field consulting with both passers, helping them learn his new offense. With that in mind, he will undoubtedly have more influence on the game and on the players by working from the sideline, rather than calling down information on a hardline phone during the middle of a game. And that’s the point Saban made on Wednesday.

“When I was a coordinator, I always wanted to go in the press box,” he said. “But you have no impact on the players and you cannot make adjustments during the game as easily up there because you can’t communicate.”

Saban is making the same decision that then-Cleveland Browns, now-New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick did when he hired Saban as his defensive coordinator in 1991.

“When I went to work for Belichick in Cleveland as a defensive coordinator, he said, ‘You’re not going to be in the press box, you’re going to be on the field,’” Saban recalled. “I said, ‘Man, I can’t call this stuff. We’ve got 52 different personnel groups and all these formations and all this stuff.’ He said, ‘You install it every day, you’re the one that’s with the players all the time, you’re the one that they listen to, you got to be on the field so you can make an adjustment and impact the players during the game.’

“I memorized my stuff, I could not pull the call sheet out and look at it during the game, I had to know what I was going to do on everything. But he was right, I had a much greater impact on the players and making adjustments in the game.”

The last sight of Kiffin calling plays is a lurid image of a man staring into a laminated sheet the size of a large Waffle House menu, trying to figure out what to call, so maybe he doesn’t have the same “memorize your calls” mandate that Saban had in Cleveland. But the motive is the same — get hands-on, and get the job done.

At the still-young age of 39, this move will help Kiffin grow and gain experience as a coach, like Saban did when Belichick moved him onto the field.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @Jonathan_Biles

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