Vasha Hunt / Associated Press
By now, everyone has heard that Lane Kiffin left Alabama to be the head coach of Florida Atlantic. It seemed as if he was on his way to leaving normally—after the Championship game—until Nick Saban fired him and put Sarkisian in his place.
Kiffin left, while on bad terms with Alabama, for a program that people do not know much about. He’s definitely left a trail of disappointments behind him in all of the programs he’s worked for making him a polarizing figure in college football.
It’ll be very interesting to see where he takes the program that has been one of the worsts in college football. They’re in Conference USA and have gone 3-9 for three straight seasons. They haven’t been to a bowl game since 2008, which was the last time they were .500 or better. Kiffin wants to bring them to greatness in just a few short years; this sounds like a tall order, but it has been done before.
At WKU, Willie Taggart brought a struggling team from a 2-10 season to two consecutive 7-5 seasons. Since Taggart, the Hilltoppers have been to a bowl game every year except 2013.
Bobby Bowden did the same at FSU. From 1973 to 1975, the Noles only had 4 wins over three seasons. In 1976 when Bobby Bowden took over the program, they went 5-6. The next year, they went 10-2 and haven’t had a losing season since. It’s possible, and this is exactly what Kiffin hopes to achieve.
FAU is the perfect program for a disgraced (?) ex-head coach to test the waters again. He signed a five-year contract, and it doesn’t seem like he is going to view those years as a rebuilding period (which might be the smartest thing to do). Right off the bat he hired Kendal Briles from Baylor to be his offensive coordinator. It’ll be interesting to see how much of the play calling and coordinator duties Kiffin will relinquish to Briles knowing that Kiffin was just the OC at Alabama and might have a short leash ready for Briles.
The hire is raising questions about the honesty of the new FAU program. Many remember that Briles’s father was fired in a sexual assault scandal last May. It seems he kept information from the university to protect players. Briles stayed on with the program and feuded with the school and the new head coach. He recently got slapped with a fine for recruiting violations as well.
Another addition to the FAU squad is raising questions. Kiffin signed QB De’Andre Johnson to the Owls—you might remember him from when FSU kicked him out for punching a woman two years ago. He was a four-star recruit but never got a chance to play for the Noles. When he was dismissed from the school he got a second chance at Eastern Mississippi Community College, where he threw for 2,846 yards and rushed for 834. He had 26 passing touchdowns and only threw six interceptions while maintaining a 60% completion percentage on the season.
Regardless of whether Johnson is a good person or not, he’s a good quarterback that could very well shine in his three years of eligibility at FAU. He’s the sort of talent that a head coach like Kiffin dreams of getting during his 5-year stint at FAU.
In his press conference at FAU, he said: “there are great players here, obviously great players in the state of Florida, and great high school coaches.” He is very excited about the quality of recruits in Florida but will have to be very efficient in his recruiting because the top tier programs are always looking to swoop talented players from Florida.
Kiffin has gained a lot of experience at Alabama under Saban. Undoubtedly, he had a big hand in a great Bama offense, and he should be able to transfer the experience from Alabama to FAU. A more important revelation, however, will be to see if he has gained wisdom (less to do with coaching talent and more with maturity). If he has learned from his mistakes at other programs, he’ll do well at FAU. He said he was very humbled by USC, and inspired by Saban (this was of course before he was thrown off the Tide’s team right before the national championship).
He admitted in his press conference that he made a mistake by jumping around programs every couple years, and he made it sound as if he would be staying, perhaps, longer than his 5 years of contracted employment. It’s hard to imagine, but it has happened before. “Today starts, brick by brick, of building the foundation of a national championship program;” grand words for a coach coming into a young and underwhelming program, but I wouldn’t put it past him. It might take more than a year or two, but I have a feeling that after a few years we will consistently see the Owls in bowl games and maybe even top tier bowl game if everything goes well.