Rat poison, missed buses and sideline fireworks: The ultimate Nick Saban-Lane Kiffin timeline

  • Covers the SEC.
  • Joined ESPN in 2012.
  • Graduate of Auburn University.

One can only hope that the reunion of Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin at midfield in Oxford, Mississippi, on Saturday is mic’d up.

Surely cameras will cover the event, both in still frame and moving picture, but we need the audio to truly capture the latest chapter of what has been one of the most unexpected and entertaining relationships in college football.

Ever since Kiffin visited Tuscaloosa in Dec. 2013 for what was described then as a “professional development” trip, the two coaches have been linked in countless headlines. First, Saban surprised the world by hiring Kiffin as his offensive coordinator at Alabama, and then we were off to the races with nearly as much drama as there was success.

Kiffin somehow kept the relationship alive, trolling from afar at Florida Atlantic, and now that he has returned to the SEC as the head coach at Ole Miss, we should be in for even more fun.

With that in mind, we decided to highlight a few pages in the scrapbook that is college football’s favorite odd couple.

Sideline fireworks

Who can forget Saban going absolutely ballistic on Kiffin in 2016? With less than a minute remaining and Alabama running away with a 35-point win over Western Kentucky, Saban didn’t appreciate a questionable play call by Kiffin, which resulted in a fumble that ultimately led to a touchdown.

With cameras covering the whole thing, Saban screamed at Kiffin on the sideline, gesturing wildly.

Afterward, Saban was asked what the argument was about.

“There are no arguments,” he said. “Those are called ass-chewings.”

A few years later, when it was Brian Daboll’s turn in the hot seat, Kiffin made sure to remind everyone what the role of Saban’s offensive coordinator entails.

Hold the bus

Timeliness was not one of Kiffin’s strong suits.

In 2016, after Alabama beat Clemson to win the CFP National Championship, the Crimson Tide were preparing to leave the stadium in Glendale, Arizona, as Kiffin chatted with reporters. Kiffin tried to stop the bus, but it left anyway.

“First, I get fired on the tarmac,” Kiffin said at the time, referring to his departure as head coach at USC, “and now I get left behind at the national championship.”

Fast-forward a year and it happened again, only this time in Atlanta. The pre-Peach Bowl media session had ended, but the chatty Kiffin kept on talking with reporters. And, again, the buses left the stadium without him.

When you’re at Alabama, you’re operating on Saban’s time, and Kiffin never really got the hang of that.

An unexpected exit

About a week after Kiffin missed the bus in Atlanta, he was told he’d no longer be part of the Tide’s traveling party.

In one of the truly stunning moves ever executed prior to a national championship game, Saban made the decision — the words “mutually agreed” were part of the statement — to speed up Kiffin’s departure for Florida Atlantic, where he’d already agreed to become the Owls’ head coach.

Sources told ESPN that Kiffin had been late to meetings — not just the bus — and the relationship between the two had become strained as a result.

Remember those so-called “ass-chewings”? Apparently Kiffin’s comments a week earlier that he couldn’t recall any fond memories from working at Alabama didn’t go over well internally, either, as Kiffin told reporters, “I don’t think fun is a word used around our program much.”

Steve Sarkisian was installed as offensive coordinator, and Alabama blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead to lose to Clemson in the title game.

Setting records

There were plenty of nontraditional storylines to track during Kiffin’s tenure at Alabama, but let’s not lose sight of the impact he had on the program by bringing the offense into the 21st century. Saban wanted to transition to the spread and run a more up-tempo offense, and bringing in Kiffin provided all that and more.

The old “three yards and a could of dust” was officially retired the minute Kiffin set foot on campus. He’d draw up plays in the dirt on the sideline — plays they hadn’t practiced before — and they’d work. From 2014 to ’16, Alabama would go on to average 36.9 points and 455 yards per game.

Kiffin helped turned a quarterback many people had given up on, Blake Sims, into the school record holder for passing yards in a single season (3,487). And in doing so, he helped Amari Cooper set a school record for receptions (124), receiving yards (1,727) and touchdown catches (16).

The very next season, Kiffin flipped the script and fed running back Derrick Henry to the tune of a school record 2,219 yards rushing and Alabama’s second-ever Heisman Trophy.

Under Kiffin’s watch, Jalen Hurts became the first true freshman to win SEC Offensive Player of the Year since Herschel Walker, and Kiffin played a prominent role in the recruitment of both Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones.

Still throwing shade

The Saban-Kiffin relationship now takes place from afar. Time and time again, Kiffin has said how much he appreciated the opportunity Saban gave him and how much he learned under from him.

In 2017, Kiffin told ESPN he still texts Saban. But because Saban is Saban, he doesn’t respond. In fact, Saban doesn’t respond to anyone’s texts.

At least Saban sees those messages, though. The jabs Kiffin throws at his old boss on Twitter and in media interviews might not reach Saban’s desk, and we can only guess at what his reaction would be.

But the rest of the world gets to enjoy Lane being Lane. Like when he told ESPN’s Dan Le Batard that he was happy maybe 14 days out of the year when he worked at Alabama. Or how he said of those sideline tirades, “Somebody used to joke that [Saban] gets a memo in the fourth quarter that TV cameras showed me more than him, so he would make sure he ripped me to humble me.”

On Twitter, Kiffin is relentless. He has gotten some serious mileage out of Saban’s chastising the media in 2017, saying, “All that stuff you write about how good we are? All that stuff they hear on ESPN? It’s like poison. Like rat poison.”

Less than two weeks after Saban’s initial comment, Kiffin was using the invented phrase.

And a month after that, Kiffin was asking, “can u rat poison urself?”

He has used the term “rat poison” to troll Saban so many times it’s hard to keep track. Just two months ago, Kiffin returned to that old saw in an interview with Paul Finebaum because, well, why not?

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