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Saban, Alabama moving on from Kiffin saga

Dec 31, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban speaks to media after the game against the Washington Huskies in the 2016 CFP Semifinal at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Saban isn’t sure why the media keeps asking him what changes Alabama is going to make to its offense now that former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has moved on to his new school at Florida Atlantic.

“Dabo (Swinney) is a good friend of mine. Maybe I’ll just call him up and tell him what we’re going to do,” Saban said jokingly on Tuesday in a teleconference call with the media to preview next Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

Saban announced on Monday that he and Kiffin agreed to part ways in the best interest of both parties. Kiffin was hired last month to be the new head coach at Florida Atlantic University. Saban promoted former Southern Cal and Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian as Kiffin’s replacement.

“We made a statement about this yesterday, and really don’t have much else to say about it,” he said. “It’s difficult sometimes when you’re in a situation when you have a new opportunity and a new job, and we mutually agreed that in the best interest of everyone that this would be the best thing for us to do relative to the experience that we had in preparation for Washington and playing in the game.

“You know, I don’t think there’s a whole lot more to say about that. Our coaches are working hard to try to put the best game plan we can together to play against a very good Clemson defense, and we’re in the planning stages right now. I don’t know why you all keep asking me what changes we’re going to make.”

Sarkisian will have a tough challenge in his first game as Alabama’s  offensive coordinator as he and the Crimson Tide face a Clemson defense that is coming off a shutout of No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. The Tigers (13-1) limited the Buckeyes to a season-low 215 total yards, held them to just nine first downs, had 11 tackles for loss, three sacks, forced three turnovers and to just 3-of-14 on third downs.

“They played really, really well against Ohio State,” Saban said. “They created a lot of pressure, a lot of negative plays, really affected the quarterback, and this is a complete unit. They have really good guys up front. Their linebackers are athletic and very instinctive and can run, and they play really well in the back end.

“You know, this is a very, very good defensive team from top to bottom, and I thought they played just, you know, really, really outstanding against Ohio State in terms of being well-prepared, knowing exactly what they had to take away, and played well together to get it done.”

While Clemson was playing well, the Crimson Tide struggled on offense. They had just 326 total yards in their Peach Bowl win over Washington—their third lowest of the season—and have failed to reach at least 400 yards of offense in three of the last four games and four of the last six. They had no less than 451 total yards in the first eight games this season.

Sarkisian, who joined the Alabama staff as a quality control coach, has not been able to coach on the team so this will be the first time he has coached any of the offensive players when the Tide practices this week.

“They’re involved in the planning. They’re involved in the organization,” Saban said. “That’s where they make their contribution, in the coaching meetings. They’re not really allowed to be involved with the team.”

Saban said he did not make a change after Kiffin got the FAU job because he thought Kiffin could handle the day-to-day duties of what he was responsible for at Alabama, while still getting his staff together at FAU, like former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart did last year after taking the Georgia job.

“I try to make the decisions based on what’s best for helping our players be successful, and at the time there was no anticipation that – or thought that there would be any kind of problem relative to managing two jobs at once. When we sort of saw that it was, agreed that it was a little bit of a tough thing, then we decided to move in a different direction,” Saban said.

“I don’t have anything else to say about this,” the Alabama head coach continued. “You know, we’re moving forward. We’re looking forward to the Clemson game. We did what we did for the reasons that I’ve stated many, many times before, and there’s really nothing else to talk about. So there’s no why, there’s no if, there’s no but. It just is what it is.

“The statement says what it is. We’re moving forward, so let’s talk about the game. I mean, it’s only fair to the players who have worked hard on both teams to have an opportunity to play in a great, competitive venue, and that’s what we’d like to talk about.”

Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

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