It has been two years.
It’s time to put aside all of those old Lane Kiffin descriptors: loud, cocky, underachiever, etc. Like all gossip -- and that’s all it ever was during his stops as a head coach -- we need to give it a rest.
Now that the old narrative is ended, it’s time for a new one. So meet the new Lane Kiffin: quarterback whisperer.
He’s the reason Alabama is projected to be a playoff team next season despite searching for their third starting QB in three years. He’s the reason Alabama fans are so calm when it comes to replacing running back Derrick Henry. Whether next year's quarterback is Cooper Bateman, Blake Barnett, David Cornwell or a another contender such as true freshman Jalen Hurts, there’s a sense that Kiffin has it covered.
After all, given what he has done with quarterbacks so far in his career, why wouldn’t he get the benefit of the doubt?
Look at his time at Tennessee, where he took Jonathan Crompton, a three-year backup with more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (8), and turned him into one of the best QBs in the SEC with 27 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and 2,800 passing yards in 2009.
Look at his time at USC, where he had only one truly successful NFL quarterback in Carson Palmer, yet helped mold Matt Leinart into one of the best players in school history and landed John David Booty and Matt Barkley on All-Pac-10 teams.
Finally, look at what he has done at Alabama, taking a pair of fifth-year seniors with relatively little starting experience and transforming them into quality college quarterbacks capable of leading a team to the College Football Playoff.
Blake Sims was a former scout-team QB and part-time wide receiver when Kiffin got hold of him in 2014. To compensate for Sims’ struggles reading the defense, Kiffin spread the field, installed a hurry-up offense and called audibles from the sideline himself. To make up for Sims’ sub-par arm strength, he moved the pocket to accentuate Sims’ athleticism and drew up high-percentage throws to Amari Cooper, using a barrage of quick outs and screens. The result: Sims set a school record for passing yards in a single season.
Kiffin followed that up with another improbable turnaround this past season, lifting career backup Jake Coker to starting quarterback. Coker wasn’t as quick a trigger as Sims, so Kiffin slowed the pace of the game. To use Coker’s big arm, he called for long play-action passes to Calvin Ridley. And when Coker showed that he was a better-than-expected runner, Kiffin even used some read-option. You can quibble about Coker’s ability, but the numbers speak for themselves: 21 touchdowns, 8 interceptions and 3,110 passing yards.
AJ McCarron never threw for 3,100 yards. No one in school history ever had. And somehow Kiffin helped two quarterbacks do it in back-to-back seasons.
The scary thing is that Kiffin’s next quarterback at Alabama will be more talented than Sims or Coker.
While Sims and Coker were three-star prospects, none of Alabama’s four scholarship QBs was rated lower than four stars coming out of high school. Bateman, the oldest of the bunch, was the No. 3-rated pocket passer in the 2013 class. Cornwell was the No. 4-rated passer in 2014, and Barnett was a five-star prospect and the No. 1 passer in 2015.
Kiffin seems undaunted by the task of sorting out yet another crowded field of quarterbacks,
“It is what it is,” he said before the Cotton Bowl. “It’s another set of challenges. It helps you grow as a coach because you’ve got a gap at quarterback and they have a different set of things they do.”
And he seems to relish working with those different sets of skills. Whether it’s Bateman or Barnett with their mobility or Cornwell with his big arm, getting the most out of a quarterback is where Kiffin thrives.
Hold onto your old opinions all you want. If you can’t recognize Kiffin's ability to churn out quality quarterbacks, just wait and see what he does next.