Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Tide turn to Kiffin on offense
Southern California head coach Lane Kiffin reacts after losing to Arizona State 62-41 during an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 28 2013, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
FAYETTEVILLE -- Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will finally get to face Arkansas in an SEC game this season.
Kiffin called plays in Southern California's 70-17 and 50-14 victories over the Razorbacks in 2005 and 2006 when he was the Trojans' offensive coordinator, but Arkansas and Tennessee weren't scheduled to play in 2009, Kiffin's lone season as Tennessee's head coach.
Kiffin replaced Pete Carroll at USC in Jaunary 2010 after going 7-6 at Tennessee, and went 28-15 five games into his fourth season with the Trojans when he was fired after a 62-41 loss at Arizona State.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban brought Kiffin back to the SEC when Doug Nussmeier resigned to take the offensive coordinator job at Michigan.
Kiffin is the biggest name among the new coordinators in the SEC, a group that includes Kurt Roper (Florida) and former UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell (Vanderbilt) on offense and defensive coordinators Jeremy Pruitt (Georgia), Robb Smith (Arkansas) and David Kotulski (Vanderbilt).
Mississippi State assistants Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy were promoted to co-offensive coordinators after Les Koenning left to become Texas' receivers coach, but Bulldogs Coach Dan Mullen will continue calling plays.
Kiffin, the son of former Arkansas defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, has the challenge of recharging the Crimson Tide's offense after Alabama lost its final two games last season, 34-28 at Auburn in the Iron Bowl and 45-31 to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
Saban doesn't allow his assistant coaches to do interviews on a regular basis, so Kiffin will be able to focus on calling plays, developing players and recruiting for Alabama rather than making statements that result in negative attention.
Kiffin's brief tenure at Tennessee was notable because he falsely accused then-Florida Coach Urban Meyer of breaking NCAA rules and drew a reprimand by SEC Commissioner Mike Slive for criticizing officials, but Saban was impressed that the eventual national champion Crimson Tide struggled to beat the Vols 12-10.
Kiffin, 39, signed a three-year contract that will pay him $680,000 each of the next two years and $714,000 in 2016.
"Lane did a fantastic job with our staff and our players," Saban said after spring practice. "Both parties, I think, have a lot of respect for his knowledge, enthusiasm and experience. They respect him as teacher.
"Any time you make a change, everybody's got to make little adjustments. We tried to keep some of the things we've been doing and also allow Lane the freedom to do some of the things that he wants to do. I think everybody's bought into that and it's worked out really, really well."
Alabama, which visits Arkansas Oct. 11 in Fayetteville, is expected to play at a faster tempo under Kiffin's direction, but it won't be an Auburn-style Hurry-up, No-huddle approach.
Fullbacks will be more involved as blockers for the Tide's talented tailback group, led by T.J. Yeldon, based on spring practice. Alabama figures to use more of a spread attack in the passing game with whichever quarterback -- Florida State transfer Jacob Coker and Blake Sims are the top candidates -- wins the starting job as AJ McCarron's replacement.
"It's going to be different," receiver Christon Jones told Al.com. "It's usually Alabama run game, run game, run game, pass here and there."
Jones said the tight ends and running backs will be involved in the passing game along with the receivers.
"It's flexible enough for everybody to get a touch," Jones said.
Pruitt, a former Alabama defensive backs coach, became Georgia's defensive coordinator after one season in that position at Florida State.
What helped Pruitt land a job at Georgia -- and get a three-year contract that pays him $850,000 annually -- was that the Seminoles beat Auburn to win the national championship while leading the nation in scoring defense (12.1 points) and ranking third in total defense (281.4 yards).
Georgia, which plays Arkansas Oct. 18 in Little Rock, is looking to improve a defense that ranked 78th in scoring (29 points) and 45th in total defense (375.5 yards) under Todd Grantham, who is now Louisville's defensive coordinator with a five-year contract that pays him $1 million annually.
"I loved Florida State," Pruitt told reporters in the spring. "They're great people, and it's a great place, but I just thought this would be a really good challenge."
Pruitt has simplified the Bulldogs' playbook and wants them playing more aggressively. He has said he'll utilize more players in varied packages.
Pruitt was on Alabama's staff when the Tide won two national championships.
"Obviously, he's a winner," Georgia Coach Mark Richt said after spring practice. " He loves coaching ball, there's no doubt about that. But he also understands how to handle people and how to handle the players themselves and help them grow."
Roper, the son of former Arkansas All-Southwest Conference defensive end and longtime college defensive line coach Bobby Roper, is back in the SEC at Florida.
Roper, 42, spent the past six seasons as David Cutcliffe's offensive coordinator at Duke after he worked in the SEC as a graduate assistant at Mississippi State and Tennessee and as a full-time assistant at Ole Miss, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Gators Coach Will Muschamp is counting on Roper to resuscitate the offense with the return of junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, who missed the final eight games last season after suffering a broken leg against Tennessee.
Roper, who replaced the fired Brent Pease, has a three-year contract that pays him $600,000 annually. He will direct an uptempo offense that features more Shotgun spread formations in contrast to the Gators' previous run-oriented scheme.
Roper's offense at Duke ranked 40th nationally in scoring (32.8 points) and 47th in total offense (426.1 yards) while Florida was 113th (18.8 points) and 115th (316.7) and finished 4-8.
"Kurt did a phenomenal job at Duke," Muschamp said. "He's a very positive guy, a really good teacher. He coaches fast on the grass.
"He's a guy that's very demanding but fair with the players. He's just been a very positive influence on our football team."
Sports on 07/12/2014