Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin first met in 2009 when Kiffin was the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers. Alabama was undefeated at the time, and would go on to win every game they played that season (including the National Championship Game), but Kiffin and the Vols gave the Crimson Tide a run for their money in their Week 7 matchup. Tennessee had a chance to win the game in the final seconds, but Alabama managed to block the game-winning field goal attempt, resulting in a 12-10 victory.
Saban saw enough from Kiffin in this matchup to go on to hire him as Alabama's offensive coordinator in 2014 after his three-year stint with USC. Kiffin held the job for three seasons, and while his tenure leading the offense was filled with a lot of drama between himself and Saban, he still managed to rack up a 40-4 record and win a National Championship in 2016 during his time with Alabama.
Kiffin would end up getting dismissed before the 2017 National Championship Game after word came out that he was going to accept the head coaching job with Florida Atlantic University at the end of the season, and his relationship with Saban has been rocky ever since. With Kiffin now in charge at Ole Miss, who are set to take on Saban and Alabama on Saturday afternoon for their Week 4 action, let's take a look back at their storied history ahead of the next chapter in their legendary rivalry
Nick Saban's career since dismissing Lane Kiffin
The Crimson Tide lost the 2017 National Championship to Clemson after dismissing Kiffin shortly before the big game. It marked Saban's first loss in a title game and snapped a 26-game winning streak for Alabama.
It wouldn't be Saban's last loss in a title game, as he has lost two more since the 2016 game. In 2018, Clemson bested Saban again, this time by a score of 44-16, Saban's worst loss at Alabama. In 2021, Alabama met SEC rival Georgia in the title game and lost 33-18.
Saban has also had his share of success since Kiffin left. The team rebounded in the 2017 season after coming up short against Clemson and made it back to the National Championship Game, where they ended up beating Georgia 26-23. And in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Saban went undefeated through their SEC schedule and defeated Notre Dame and Ohio State in the College Football Playoff to win yet another National Championship.
Lane Kiffin's career since being dismissed by Nick Saban
Kiffin achieved success immediately upon his appointment as head coach of Florida Atlantic University. After starting the season 1-3, Kiffin's Owls won ten straight games, including a 41-17 win in the C-USA Championship Game against North Texas. FAU would then go on to win the Boca Raton Bowl by a score of 50-3 over Akron. Kiffin and FAU took a step back in 2018 but returned to glory in 2019 with a 10-3 record and another C-USA Championship victory, this time over UAB.
Before the 2019 Boca Raton Bowl, Kiffin departed FAU for the head coaching job at Ole Miss. This surprised FAU, as Kiffin had agreed to a ten-year deal with the Owls before their first bowl game back in 2017 that would keep him with the team until 2027.
Taking over a rebuilding Ole Miss team was no small task for Kiffin, as he struggled to a 5-5 record in his first year with the team. He rebounded with a 10-3 record in 2021 and an 8-5 mark in 2022. Expectations are high for him and his squad in 2023, as the Rebels enter their game against Alabama in Week 4 with a 3-0 record.
Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin, head-to-head
Saban is 4-0 against his former offensive coordinator, but that doesn't mean Kiffin hasn't had some success. As mentioned earlier, Kiffin almost upset Saban in his lone season as the Volunteers head coach.
In a much-anticipated showdown in 2020, once Kiffin had returned to the SEC West, his offense dominated Saban. Unfortunately for Kiffin, his defense was just as leaky, and Alabama won the game 63-48. The game embarrassed Saban's defense, as Kiffin's offense posted 647 total yards. Kiffin played up the 2021 matchup between the two teams, but Alabama got an early 35-0 lead, and eventually won 42-21.
In 2022, Saban's team had already lost two SEC games and didn't look like the Alabama teams of old. Many believed that Kiffin was going to get his elusive first win over Saban. However, Alabama squeaked out another victory, this time winning 30-24.
Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin in their own words
In the buildup to this game, Saban has had nothing but good things to say about his former offensive coordinator. “Lane did a fantastic job when he was here,” Saban said in praise of Kiffin. “We kind of went from old school ball to modern-day ball I want to call it, in terms of doing some things with RPOs and advantage throws and really sort of set us off for the future of what we do on offense and what we’ve been able to do on offense.”
Kiffin has been playing some more mind games in the lead-up to this matchup, though. In a message from his X account, Kiffin accused Saban of using his “rat poison” as a weapon against the Rebels. He also used the “goat” emoji at the end of his tweet, signaling respect for Saban. Saban uses the word “rat poison” to complain about the media handing out too much praise to Alabama.
On “The Nick Saban Show” this week, Saban said, “I don't know if we've got a good enough team to beat Ole Miss or anybody else we play, but we've got a better team than we played last week.”
There is no doubt that it is appointment viewing whenever Saban and Kiffin face off. Their Week 4 matchup will be no different.