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Why did Lane Kiffin leave Alabama? Revisiting relationship between Nick Saban, Ole Miss coach

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Lane Kiffin has had more twists and turns in his coaching career before age 50 than most coaches have in their lifetimes. 

While the 47-year-old is hoping he has finally found stability at Ole Miss, his long journey brought him through Tuscaloosa as a key member of Alabama’s staff not too long ago. Like some of his other coaching stints, his time with the Crimson Tide ended in bizarre fashion. 

Since his exit, Kiffin is 0-2 against Saban, but his Rebels have held their own against a more talented team. Alabama’s hiccups this season have brought hope that Ole Miss can get over the hump this year.

Precedents are meant to be broken. Last year, a former Saban assistant finally broke through and defeated the master when Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M pulled off an upset win. Three months later, Saban lost to a second former assistant – Kirby Smart – in the national championship game. Kiffin is aiming to make it three with a signature win on Saturday. 

MORE: Kiffin jabs Fisher with ‘Joker’ comment after Ole Miss win over Texas A&M

The Sporting News looks back at the unusual circumstances that ended the Saban-Kiffin partnership. 

Why did Lane Kiffin leave Alabama?

Kiffin enjoyed three seasons as Alabama’s offense coordinator after his firing as USC’s head coach, helping Saban win a national championship in 2015. The ending, however, was abrupt.

Kiffin accepted the head coaching job at Florida Atlantic in December 2016 with plans to stay on Alabama’s staff through the end of the season. After calling plays in the Tide’s College Football Playoff semifinal win over Washington, Kiffin was fired by Saban two days later. Steve Sarkisian coordinated Alabama’s offense in a national championship loss to Clemson. 

MORE: What’s wrong with Alabama? Examining the Tide’s struggles

After the firing, Saban said he “thought it was in the best interest of our players, our program, and for Lane” that Kiffin begin his new role at FAU immediately, citing “distractions” caused by leaving one job for another. Alabama was held to 24 points in Kiffin’s final game on the Alabama sideline.

Saban later reiterated that he saw issues with the way the team prepared for the CFP semifinal while Kiffin was trying to hire his own staff at FAU. ESPN reported Saban “fumed” when Kiffin was late to a meeting in the weeks leading up to the playoff.

An odd pairing from the start, the relationship between Kiffin and Saban seems to be fine as SEC rivals. “I think it’s good,” Kiffin told reporters when asked about the relationship this week, saying that the two talk to each other at conference meetings.

Lane Kiffin, Nick Saban

Lane Kiffin coaching record

Years Team W L Pct.
2009 Tennessee 7 6 .538
2010-13 USC 28 15 .651
2017-19 FAU 27 13 .675
2020-22 Ole Miss 23 9 .719
Total   85 43 .664

Kiffin also spent one-plus seasons in the NFL, coaching the Raiders from 2007 to 2008. That stint ended poorly.

When did Ole Miss hire Lane Kiffin?

Ole Miss finalized a deal to hire Kiffin just over a week after the end of the 2019 regular season.

After an infamous penalty on Elijah Moore for a celebration gone wrong led to a loss in the 2019 Egg Bowl, the Rebels fired coach Matt Luke and quickly targeted Kiffin.

MORE: Kiffin sounds off on Ole Miss fans not attending games: ‘Looks like a high school game’

Kiffin is 23-9 through nearly three seasons at Ole Miss after the program went 20-28 from 2016-19. No Ole Miss head coach has lasted more than four seasons since David Cutcliffe nearly two decades ago, but Kiffin seemingly has a chance to be a long-term fixture in Oxford.


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