MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Lane Kiffin says he could have remained at Alabama as offensive coordinator through the national championship game if he had wanted to.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, meanwhile, got testy on Tuesday when asked several times about how the Kiffin-to-Steve Sarkisian move would change preparation.
“We’re in the planning stages right now, so I don’t know why y’all keep asking me what changes we’re going to make,” he said in response to the first question asked on a media teleconference. “Dabo’s a good friend of mine. Maybe I’ll just call him up and tell him what we’re going to do.”
Dabo Swinney coaches Clemson, which Alabama will face in Monday night’s national title game.
Saban also dismissed Kiffin’s talk of possibly helping the Tide in some capacity from the press box on Monday. He made it clear that’s not happening.
“It’s really not even possible from a legal standpoint for him to do those things,” he said. “That’s not something that we’re interested in pursuing.”
Kiffin told ESPN’s Mike & Mike show Tuesday that the decision to leave Alabama was mutual, even though the Tide’s offense could have performed better in the 24-7 semifinal win over Washington.
“I know this was a decision that I came up with, and it was very difficult to do,” said Kiffin, who’s taking over as Florida Atlantic’s head coach. “This was not something that Nick Saban forced me to do by any means.
“If I wanted to coach this game, I would have coached this game, and I just thought that it wasn’t the best thing for the players.”
Kiffin and Saban announced Monday that incoming offensive coordinator Sarkisian, who has worked as an analyst this season, would run the offense and call plays against Clemson. Both described it as a mutual decision.
Alabama had only 57 passing yards against the Huskies. Backup tailback Bo Scarbrough accounted for 180 yards, or 55 percent of the Tide’s total offense.
Saban said he didn’t think leading up to the Peach Bowl that letting Kiffin juggle two jobs would be a problem. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart did it last season before leaving for Georgia and offensive coordinator Jim McElwain finished the 2011 season after taking the Colorado State head job.
“I try to make the decisions based on what’s best for helping our players be successful,” Saban said. “At the time there was no anticipation or thought that there would be any kind of problem relative to managing two jobs at once. When we sort of saw, and agreed, that that was a little bit of a tough team, then we decided to move in a different direction.”
It’s unclear how well Alabama players know Sarkisian. He was involved in coaches meetings and planning, but Saban said analysts aren’t “really allowed to be involved with the team.”
Scarbrough was asked what kind of interaction he has had with Sarkisian.
“On the sideline, he always tells me to keep my helmet on and stay ready because you never know when your number is called,” the tailback said.
Kiffin, meanwhile, praised his relationship with Saban on the radio show.
“We had a great relationship,” he said. “It just kept getting better and better as time went. Obviously the success on the field was fun and the players that we were able to coach in our three years in one of the greatest runs in the history of college football. And one more game to finish it.”
Kiffin said he watched Alabama’s defense struggle against Clemson in last year’s national championship, with Smart pulling double duty as Georgia’s new head coach.
“I don’t know if that’s part of it or not,” he said. “But I didn’t want to have that feeling and if it was, and we lost the game because I wasn’t 100 percent focused on our players, I didn’t have them in the best position to win, I couldn’t live with that.”