Lane Kiffin just might be the most accomplished college assistant ever.
That's not necessarily a compliment. By all logic, Alabama's third-year offensive coordinator shouldn't still be Alabama's offensive coordinator. He has coached three Heisman Trophy winners. His drawer is filled with three national championship rings at two different schools.
There are plenty of opinions as to why the talented 41-year-old son of an iconic defensive mastermind (Monte Kiffin), with Nick Saban and Pete Carroll on his resume, isn't running his own program these days. Few of them on the record.
Former Fresno State coach Pat Hill probably offered the most revealing recent analysis. Almost 20 years ago, Hill coached Kiffin as a backup quarterback at Fresno then hired him as a student assistant.
"I think he'll be a head coach again," Hill said. "I've got no doubt. I really like Lane. He's talented, he's sharp. In his next job, he's got to surround himself with people who can help him with discipline."
Discipline? Take that statement any way you want to. At an age where most of his peers' careers are taking off, Kiffin's has settled into some sort of uneasy stability.
Unease because, in this social media era, a middle-aged father of three was known at least as much for a series of bizarre tweets in the offseason as tutoring back-to-back reclamation projects at quarterback.
Unease? Perhaps only his ego has kept Kiffin from moving up. All we know for sure is that Kiffin has chosen to stay where he is after interviewing with Maryland (and turning down an offer to be UCLA's offensive coordinator).
Unease because, at times, Kiffin has turned out to be as brilliant as he is quirky. Sometimes, he's both at once. We're talking about a guy who, while at Tennessee, falsely called out Urban Meyer (then at Florida) for breaking NCAA rules.
Kiffin also somehow blended a quarterback who had never started a game (Jacob Coker) with a Heisman-winning workhorse running back (Derrick Henry) to win a title. He's largely responsible for the two best seasons of total offense in the program's history (led by Coker and Blake Sims).
"I don't think he's been saddled up in a great situation until now," Hill said, "but he doesn't get credit for that."
Remember: Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart weren't exactly chopped liver with Kiffin as their offensive coordinator in 2005. As their head coach, Kiffin's 2012 Trojans were the biggest AP Top 25 poll flop in the last 10 years, according to colleague Jon Solomon.
But the previous year, USC walked into Oregon with 51 scholarship players and won on its way to a 10-win season. Kiffin was responsible for that, too.
All of it makes Kiffin's head coaching prospects so hard to evaluate.
It may be that he is too much of a wild card off the field to be trusted running a program -- at least for now. Perhaps that perceived lack of immaturity for a man his age -- going all the way back his days as a USC assistant -- has followed him to Tuscaloosa.
That's how a guy with a higher college winning percentage than Dan Mullen, Art Briles, Charlie Strong and Kirk Ferentz remains in T-Town as an assistant.
"Really, there's so much to learn here," he said this month during a rare media availability at Alabama. "I was like a [graduate assistant] ... I kind of feel that way. I continue to grow, continue to learn under coach [Saban]."
Saban reached out to Kiffin to coordinate his offense following the 2013 season. That was the year Kiffin was infamously fired by USC athletic director Pat Haden at the airport following a road loss at Arizona State.
Saban had tried to hire Kiffin once before, in 2007, but that was prior to the then 32-year-old being snatched up by Al Davis to coach the Oakland Raiders.
Kiffin lasted 20 games, winning five of them in one-and-a-half seasons before an acrimonious parting. A brief one-season stay at Tennessee left the course of both the program and the coach significantly altered.
"When you become a head coach so early, so young and so fast, you don't really know why you're doing things," Kiffin said before last season's College Football Playoff.
Through it all, there were silver-spoon labels hung on a coach who, some felt, kept falling up. Kiffin was USC tight ends coach at 26. He was the Trojans' offensive coordinator at 30.
At 41, his career should have a good 20 years left. It's just that we don't know which way it's headed. Since 2014, half of the FBS has changed coaches (64 schools). Kiffin either hasn't got a call or has turned some down. Or both.
"He's done enough to have a resume that says he can be a head coach," Alabama tight end O.J. Howard said. "Definitely as an offensive coordinator, anywhere else -- NFL, wherever he wants to be.
"But head coach? I think he has the [talent] for that also."
Eric Kiesau was Kiffin's roommate last season at Alabama. Kiesau said he was hired as an offensive consultant to install no-huddle concepts at Bama.
"Everything has to be approved through [Saban] first," said Kiesau, a long-time college assistant. "I did my [presentation] for three hours. He liked it and said, 'Go ahead, show Lane.' I showed Lane right there on the spot and went to work."
You know the results. Alabama finished in the top 10 among Power Five schools in total touchdowns for the second straight year. Never mind that, three years earlier, Saban had railed against the no-huddle.
How much credit did Kiffin deserve for this particular transformation?
"I think the credit really goes to Saban to have the courage to say, 'I'm going to break the mold, step out of my comfort zone a little bit,'" said Kiesau, now Fresno State's offensive coordinator.
As we progress toward Alabama's opener next week against Kiffin's old team (USC), his career continues to be reborn. But is that even the right term? For now, Year 3 in Tuscaloosa looks like more of a rerun.