- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor's note: This is Part I in a weeklong series looking at the five most pressing concerns Alabama faces this offseason.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Lane Kiffin's hiring as offensive coordinator at Alabama sent shockwaves through college football, and understandably so. How Nick Saban could call on one of the country's most divisive coaches in the downslide of his career was confounding. After all, it was only a few months ago that Kiffin was being mocked after he was called off USC's team bus to be told he was fired.
The moment seemed like the culmination of a career that rose swiftly and sputtered out just as quickly: first a renowned offensive mind under Pete Carroll at USC, then a surprising hire to lead the Oakland Raiders, a head coach at Tennessee and then back to the Trojans where his wild ride would conclude after 3 1/2 seasons.
Along the way, he upset many, most notably those in the South who saw him bail on the Vols after one turbulent season in which he went so far as to receive a public reprimand from SEC commissioner Mike Slive.
Now at a well-seasoned 38 years old, Kiffin has a chance to start over. Now all he has to do is coach.
But that job isn't as easy as it seems. There's a laundry list of to-dos between now and the start of the season at Alabama, and Kiffin is suddenly the man in charge of solving the No. 1 dilemma facing the Tide: find a starting quarterback.
To say Kiffin is behind the eight ball in that respect is an understatement. He may have been consulting Saban on campus for a week in mid-December, but he wasn't getting to know the quarterbacks at that time. He wasn't dissecting their throwing motions and he wasn't thinking ahead to the moment he might tweak their technique.
To say Alabama hasn't developed a viable starting quarterback might be an understatement, too. Doug Nussmeier left as Alabama offensive coordinator in something of a hurry. Not only did he close his stint with two uninspiring losses, he also never firmly established who AJ McCarron's successor might be.
Saban would have you believe it's Sims, considering the comments he made during the last offseason, how he was listed No. 2 on the depth chart and how he indeed came on the field in those rare moments McCarron was allowed to rest on the bench. But Sims threw only 29 passes in 2013, connecting on 18. Even when Alabama thumped teams like Colorado State, Georgia State and Chattanooga, Sims had hardly any time to work on his often erratic throwing motion. That awkward heaving of the ball that led to three interceptions at last April's A-Day game may have improved with time, but there was no seeing it during the season.
At least Sims had more reps than Morris, though, as he didn't drop back to pass a single time in 2013. The big redshirt freshman from Texas got a few courtesy snaps late in games, but he was only there to hand the ball off and run out the clock. If he progressed during the season, it wasn't with game experience.
Really, Morris is in the same boat as Alabama's three other freshmen quarterbacks: Cooper Bateman, Luke Del Rio and Parker McLeod. None of the three attempted a pass during the season and none did much of anything during the scrimmages before the season to show they might be ready to take the helm.
We might as well throw David Cornwell in that mix. The newly minted college freshman arrived on campus only a few weeks ago after enrolling early. ESPN's evaluators thought so much of his arm to rank him as the No. 2 pocket passer in his class, but a knee injury cost him most of his senior season, so rust might be a factor.
The good news for the freshmen, sophomores and veterans alike is that everyone will get a clean slate under Kiffin, whose most-overlooked title at Alabama is that of quarterbacks coach. Implementing a quicker tempo and introducing new tweaks to the offensive game plan might be part of Kiffin's new job, but his most pressing duty is finding the next McCarron. Without someone reliable under center, Alabama won't be a team capable of competing for an SEC title.
If Kiffin can develop a successor worthy of McCarron's legacy, maybe he can start to rewrite his own resume. After all, it's a big job he's being asked to do at Alabama. If he nails it, both he and Saban will look awfully smart.
5dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough