Alabama Football: Impact of Lane Kiffin on the Crimson Tide and SEC

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports /

Alabama football and the rest of the SEC has changed over the last decade. Lane Kiffin might be the coach most responsible for changing it.

Over the last decade, Alabama football has changed. It had to because both in the SEC and nationally, college football offenses were changing. Dominating defenses and time-eating, run-oriented, offenses were no longer enough to win Championships.

Actually, the changes go back more than a decade. Mike Leach’s Texas Tech ‘Air Raid’ was one example. Steve Spurrier revolutionized passing schemes in the SEC, back in the 1990s. Kentucky experimented with pass-heavy football, orchestrated by Hal Mumme and Mike Leach during Spurrier’s Florida tenure,

In the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, Urban Meyer revved Florida Gators’ offenses. Gus Malzahn followed, with a gimmicky, high-school style offense built around ‘hurry-up, no-huddle.’

Alabama football, under Nick Saban was slow to change. Three National Championships in four seasons (2009, 2011, 2012) came from overpowering Crimson Tide teams. In those seasons, the Crimson Tide had offensive talent, but what it did more than anything was physically dominate other teams until they quit. When the Tide beat Texas and LSU by similar margins in 2009 and 2011, the Tide defense was the decisive factor. In the 2012 National Championship, the Tide put up 42 points, not because of new offensive schemes, but because Notre Dame was so outmatched.

During the 2013 season, as Alabama football defenses surrendered 42 points to the Aggies, 34 points to Auburn and 45 points to Oklahoma, Nick Saban realized the Tide offense had to change. Out went Doug Nussmeir, replaced by Nick Saban’s surprise hire of Lane Kiffin. Bringing Kiffin as a consultant to analyze the Tide offense was the surprise. What Saban quickly learned from Kiffin, made the later hire as Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks coach a given.

Nick Saban must have had doubts about what Lane could deliver. To the extent he did, what was happening under Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss showed Nick he made the right move. Saban later commented on what Freeze was doing,

"I don’t really know why they started doing what they did.  can only tell you it kind of influenced us starting to do what we did."

Nick’s and Lane’s changes could not prevent losses to Ole Miss in 2014 and 2015. But three games, two late in the 2014 season, and the Ole Miss loss in September 2015 proved to Saban his hire of Kiffin was correct.

The first of the three was a win over Auburn when Kiffin’s Tide offense exploded for 55 points. Results of the other two games were sobering. Ohio State ran up 42 points on the Tide at the end of the 2014 season, followed by Ole Miss scoring 43 points early in the 2015 season. College football had changed and Crimson Tide offenses needed to be less predictable and more explosive. Spread formations, RPO, even hurry-up became part of the Saban playbook.

Alabama football fans owe much to Lane Kiffin. It took Nick’s willingness to change and Lane’s offensive mind to make the change work. Other SEC programs noticed and realized if Nick Saban could successfully change they should try to do the same.

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What does Lane Kiffin think of how Alabama football has evolved? This week Lane said, “They’ve become a pass first team, which I don’t think anyone would have ever thought during the Saban era.”