Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press
Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin are incredibly different people. Yet college football brought them together, continued a dynasty and split them in bizarre fashion.
The sport is better because of it. Professionally, so are Saban and Kiffin. In their three seasons together, Alabama posted a 40-4 record with a national title, three SEC championships and a Heisman winner while Kiffin modernized the offense as the coordinator. He left to coach Florida Atlantic after (during?) the 2016 season.
On the other hand, the personal relationship between the former colleagues is a strange mix of conflicting feelings.
There is no perfect word to describe it.
While frivolous, it’s unendingly curious. The public tone is a blend of distaste and appreciation. Now that Kiffin is coaching at Ole Miss in the SEC West―the same division as Saban and Alabama―yearly matchups add a new dynamic.
From an outside perspective, it’s fun! Saban will occasionally rant about something but is mostly measured, guarding himself and his team. Kiffin, conversely, is outspoken and open. That clash of personalities is rare in college football.
Who else could joke about Saban being “elderly” and elicit a response?
But “fun” is probably not entirely accurate.
From a literal sense, Kiffin himself has agreed that particular word isn’t part of the vocabulary at Alabama. When on The Colin Cowherd Show (h/t Mark Heim of AL.com) in April, Kiffin responded to a question about whether he had fun there.
“Yeah, like 14 times a year. Fourteen days a year when we had way better players than everyone else we lined up against. That was fun. That’s not a shot at Nick Saban. He’d say the same thing.”
Fair enough. Outside of this instance, however, Kiffin has taken plenty of troll-worthy shots at Saban―a different kind of fun.
In 2017, Saban famously used “rat poison” as a way to describe the positive media coverage of his then-undefeated team. Since then, Kiffin has featured “rat poison” in numerous social media posts, including a few involving Saban himself.
But is Kiffin poking Saban akin to one friend jabbing another? Mean-spirited? Little bit of both? Given that he’s thanked Saban in a very public, genuine way, it feels like relatively harmless jabs―more of Kiffin living up to his personality and knowing Saban will rarely respond.
Besides, the rehab of Kiffin’s reputation is a product of his time in Tuscaloosa. He has acknowledged as much.
Before his first year at FAU, Kiffin told reporters he’s better prepared to run a program after learning from Saban and grateful for the experience. When leaving FAU for Ole Miss, Kiffin said he wouldn’t be here without Saban.
Saban reiterated his appreciation for Kiffin’s impact and football