Nick Saban: Visit an idea session

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- If it took calling Phil Jackson to better understand the merits of running zone versus man-to-man, he wouldn't hesitate to pick up the phone and dial. There's no room to worry about outside perception in Alabama coach Nick Saban's world. If it's going to make his football program better, he'll do it.

That's why Saban didn't hesitate to extend an invitation to former USC coach Lane Kiffin to visit Alabama. As ESPN reported and Saban confirmed, Kiffin was in Tuscaloosa on Monday, "to share ideas and exchange ideas ... [for] professional development."

And, frankly, Saban was surprised there was any reaction to Kiffin's appearance.

"Lane is a really good offensive coach, and I've always had a tremendous amount of respect for him," Saban said Tuesday. "Just to come in and brainstorm a little bit to get some professional ideas with our guys is a really positive thing."

Kiffin once was viewed as one of the pre-eminent young offensive minds in college football, but that image has been muddied in recent years. The 38-year-old coach currently is unemployed after being fired by USC in late September. He was a disappointing 28-15 in four years leading the Trojans, and that came on the heels of a one-year stint at Tennessee in which he went 7-6.

But whatever ill will exists toward Kiffin in the South and beyond, Saban was willing to overlook it. Alabama's offense, Saban surmised, could use a fresh look from Kiffin, whose pro-style scheme has many similarities with what the Tide already run under current offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.

Nussmeier, who has become a hot name on the coaching market of late, helped the Tide to a healthy average of 38.8 points and 448.9 yards per game this season. The offense, largely viewed as plodding and conservative nationally, racked up 68 plays of 20 or more yards this season, good enough to rank in the top 30 in all of college football.

But Saban is nothing if not a perfectionist, and an extra set of eyes never hurt. In fact, he has had a number of coaches visit the program in the past, including Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and a handful of coaches from the Boise State staff.

"I can't believe there's been any reaction to it," Saban said of having Kiffin to Tuscaloosa. "Just about every year we have coaches come in and do what we call 'professional development-type things.' We exchange ideas.

"Oklahoma's staff has been here before for practice. Tom Moore, who was a longtime coordinator in the NFL, has been here on several occasions to just visit with our coaches, give us new ideas, brainstorm with us.

"To do it, though, the person can't be coaching any place right now or they've got other things to do."

Alabama has a few weeks before its date with Oklahoma in New Orleans for the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2. That might not be enough time to implement wholesale changes on offense, but it might be time enough to throw in a few Kiffin-esque tweaks.