Alabama's Lane Kiffin opens up about worst moment of his career

PHOENIX - The last time Lane Kiffin visited the Valley of the Sun, it was not the brightest moment of his career. In fact, it was the worst.

"It was," Kiffin said, "the lowest part of my career by far."

Kiffin was fired as USC's coach on Sept. 29, 2013 following the Trojans' 62-41 loss at Arizona State. In fewer than three years -- the past two as Alabama's offensive coordinator -- Kiffin has transformed his career from those lowlights to the bright lights of Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T against Clemson.

Coincidentally, Kiffin nearly worked for Saban back in 2007 when Saban became the Alabama coach. A few days after USC's 55-19 victory against Oklahoma for the BCS title, Saban -- who watched the game from the Orange Bowl sideline -- asked Kiffin to be the Tide's offensive coordinator.

"He must have liked what he saw (in USC's win)," Kiffin said.

Kiffin thought about it for two or three days, before deciding to remain at USC as Pete Carroll's offensive coordinator. Part of his decision was never having worked with Saban before and "the nightmare stories you heard about Saban." Kiffin admitted, though, he found out those stories "were not true."

A couple of weeks after deciding to remain as USC's offensive coordinator, Kiffin was hired as head coach of the Oakland Raiders.

During Saturday's media day, Kiffin shared some insight on what happened the night/early morning of his firing at USC and the differences between coaching under Carroll and Saban.

Kiffin wanted to set the record straight on his firing at USC. He was asked if he was fired on the tarmac at a private Los Angeles airport.

"I was a good 20 yards off the tarmac," Kiffin joked.

Kiffin said he was surprised he was let go, because all of the discussions with school officials were that USC would suffer through some down times because of the NCAA infractions that led to severe scholarship reductions. "But once the ball was kicked in the air, everyone forgot (about the scholarship reductions)."

After the Arizona State loss dropped USC to 3-2, Kiffin spoke with athletic director Pat Haden in the locker room and remarked "at least we found our quarterback" in Cody Kessler.

Little did Kiffin know, Haden had already decided to fire him during the game. Kiffin wondered if they would have fired him if USC had come back and won.

When USC's charter plane landed in LA, the coaches and players boarded buses to return to campus. Associate AD J.K. McKay came on the bus and asked Kiffin to come off the bus because Haden wanted to talk to him.

"I'm sorry," McKay said, making Kiffin wonder what was happening.

Kiffin left his briefcase and bags on the bus and met Haden in a small "coffee room" inside the airport. Haden told Kiffin he had been fired. Kiffin tried to change Haden's mind and even suggested that Haden could announce Kiffin was fired, but to let Kiffin remain coach for the remainder of the season for the players' sake.

Haden left the room, apparently to make a phone call, and returned and told Kiffin that it was too late, it had to be done now.

"It totally caught me off-guard," Kiffin said.

Kiffin's emotions at the time: "I was tired. It was really difficult to deal with."

Kiffin wasn't allowed to ride the bus back to campus and had to get a ride home from one of USC's security personnel. He never got to address the players.

Following the 2013 season, Kiffin received a second offer from Saban to be the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator. This time, he said yes.

"It's weird how it's worked out," Kiffin said.

Under Kiffin, Alabama's offense set a school record last season for most passing yards per game (277.9) and this season, running back Derrick Henry became only the second Alabama player to win the Heisman Trophy.

Kiffin admits before getting to know Saban, he heard "all the Saban stories. But he's very different from the stories."

Kiffin said one of the first things Saban told him when he joined Alabama's staff was that "when I see something, I'm going to tell you: good, bad or indifferent and then let's move on.

"I don't think fun is a word used around our program much. We're not here to have fun. We're here to win."

This week is only the third time Kiffin said he's been to Phoenix: the Arizona State loss which led to his firing and testifying before the NCAA regarding USC infractions case.

"Last time I was here I got fired," Kiffin said. "Time before that was for the (USC) NCAA hearing. So, yeah, a lot of great memories."

Kiffin -- and Alabama -- are hoping for better times Monday night.