When Alabama hired disgraced head coach Lane Kiffin as its offensive coordinator, many speculated whether the move would work. Could the brash, notorious coach accept a smaller role working under Nick Saban? How would the two egos mesh?
The Tide answered with yet another dominant season that included a College Football Playoff berth and earned Kiffin the 2014 Broyles Award, given to college football’s top assistant.
In-state rival Auburn is looking to find similar success in 2015. The Tigers named former Florida head coach Will Muschamp their defensive coordinator in December. Muschamp, who served as a coordinator at Auburn from 2006-07, became the highest paid assistant in college football when he agreed to a three-year deal worth “between $1.6 and 1.8 million annually.”
Muschamp faces a similar road back to prominence to Kiffin’s. Both coaches gained attention from programs after quick success as coordinators, but failed to live up to expectations as head coaches. Like Kiffin, Muschamp finds himself returning to his comfort zone.
The coach knows defense and, despite all of his shortcomings at Florida, still managed to prove such in Gainesville. His teams have ranked in the top-10 in the FBS each year since 2009. Auburn ranked No. 61 overall in 2014 and hasn’t finished higher than No. 60 in the past six seasons.
Kiffin has the luxury of coaching under one of college football’s best coaches. Saban has won with an ever-changing staff and has helped his assistants gain attention from major programs (see Muschamp).
Kiffin brought a change to Alabama’s scheme that saw Blake Sims and Amari Cooper record historic numbers through a pass-heavy attack. Still, Saban remains as hands-on as ever as Alabama continues its dominance.
For Auburn, the pairing of Muschamp and head coach Gus Malzahn is brilliant. Malzahn-coached teams have always enjoyed offensive success, but last year’s team struggled on defense. Adding Muschamp will give the Tigers and immediate boost and propel the program back to being a national contender.
The duo may be even greater than that of Saban and Kiffin. Sure, Saban remains the SEC’s best coach and Kiffin has excelled in his new role, but the pairing benefits the assistant more than the head coach. Kiffin wouldn’t have had the same success without Saban and a stacked Alabama offense.
Auburn needs a defensive upgrade and Muschamp has proven to be suitable for that job. He will benefit Malzahn just as much as joining the staff will help revive his legacy. The pairing will comprise one of the nation’s best coaching duos and should return Auburn back to a national powerhouse.