The Troll King of College Football has been busy this week.
First, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin suggested that Nick Saban had secretly changed defensive coordinators at Alabama. Then, after Saban’s terse denial of such a move, he claimed that someone within the Crimson Tide football office confirmed it to his friends on the Ole Miss staff regardless of what Saban said publicly.
After upsetting the apple cart — and perhaps sending Saban on a mission to ferret out the leak within the program — Kiffin decided to turn to Twitter and, randomly, for no reason, offer his followers a video of Taylor Swift’s concert.
The song? “Castles fall.”
Swift has recorded more than 200 songs. This is a relatively deep cut. So why choose that (Lane’s version)?
Well, let’s examine the text as the 15th-ranked Rebels prepare to visit a 13th-ranked Alabama team that, after a double-digit home loss to Texas and a shaky performance against South Florida, looks somewhat similar way to one of Saban’s vintage contenders:
I once had an empire in a golden age
I was held so high that I was amazing
They cheered when they saw my face
Now I fear I have fallen from grace
And I feel like my castle is falling down
And I watch all my bridges burn to the ground
And you don’t want to know me
Oh, there’s more.
I was once the great hope of a dynasty
The crowds would rely on my words and trust me
Their faith was strong, but I took it too far
I held that grudge until it tore me apart
The current went to my head and I couldn’t stop
The ones I loved tried to help me, so I made them run away
And here I sit alone, behind walls of regret
Falling like promises I never kept
This is Taylor Swift, so she doesn’t mince her words. And this is Lane Kiffin, so she doesn’t randomly release a song like that unless she’s trying to bait the 800-pound Tuscaloosa bear. Yet even by Kiffin’s traditionally ethos of playing to the crowd, this was, ah, rather on target.
I was great… disgraced… power has gone to my head… is my castle falling?
Alabama’s roster features 18 former 5-star recruits. Ole Miss has one. We will find out if hell hath no fury comparable to that of a seven-time national championship manager antagonized by the Swiftie in Oxford.
Give Kiffin that much and he won’t be afraid to punch. Most coaches would see a drifting Alabama team and try to quietly sneak into town and steal a rare Bryant-Denny victory.
That’s not Kiffin though. It was never Kiffin.
It’s not that he can’t help himself. It’s that he believes this is how he helps himself.
He created chaos with the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Vols. If anything, he was too moderate when he coached USC. At FAU and Ole Miss, he returned to disruptor form. He has helped him win 22 of his last 30 games and build a very strong roster capable of seriously competing in the SEC this year.
That’s why, when asked at a news conference about Alabama defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, Kiffin said that watching game footage it looked like Steele had been demoted in favor of cornerbacks coach Travaris Robinson.
“It seems like there’s been a change there,” Kiffin said. “I don’t know what happened after the Texas game. But, you know, our guys watching the TV copy, schematically in this last game, it certainly looks like T-Rob is calling the defense now.
This was, even by Kiffin’s standards, an outrageous statement. It is true? Who knows? The mere suggestion, though, forced Saban to respond and possibly throw a grenade into defensive matchups at a time when the Tide’s quarterback situation remains in flux.
A clearly annoyed Saban didn’t even wait to be asked by reporters before addressing the situation.
“Another thing I hear floating around out there — I’m sure you’ve seen the same reports that I’ve seen — is that Kevin Steele is the defensive coordinator,” Saban said. “He has all the responsibilities of defensive coordinator.”
Kiffin was not discouraged and noted that he was only answering a question and had no intention of creating “this big thing”.
Then he basically said that the Alabama staff confirmed it and that they were leaking secrets.
“We looked into the matter further,” Kiffin said. “And then it’s no secret that the people in these buildings know each other, so obviously we got some information that way too.”
Saban is 71 years old. Kiffin is 48 years old. Time is on the Ole Miss coach’s side, but he won’t let the legend die quietly.
Kiffin is also a great defender of Saban. He constantly praises it and scoffs at media suggestions that Alabama’s dynasty is over. After all, it was Saban who helped turn Kiffin’s career around after he was fired from USC.
Kiffin spent three seasons (2014-16) as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, modernizing the offense and making Tuscaloosa attractive to truly elite quarterbacks who spurred a succession of Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones and Bryce Young.
Saban also dramatically fired Kiffin after the 2016 College Football Playoff semifinal win over Washington, partly because Bama scored just 24 points, but also because Kiffin was about to leave to become FAU’s head coach. The Tide lost the national title game to Clemson, but Saban never expressed any remorse for boxing Kiffin midway through the playoffs.
So maybe it’s complicated.
Or maybe it’s just Lane being Lane, daring to say whatever he wants to whoever he wants, including joking with the king and wondering about collapsed castles even before the game is played.
If the tide is truly in the balance, then Kiffin has called his shot. Tuscaloosa awaits.