At FAU, Lane Kiffin Can Quiet His Critics

FAU reportedly hired Lane Kiffin to be the team’s new head football coach. Alabama’s OC has a chance to prove that he is, indeed, head-coach material.

Lane Kiffin is a head coach once again.

FAU reportedly hired the Alabama offensive coordinator on Monday, bringing another big-name head coach to Conference USA a month after FIU hired Butch Davis to revive its program.

Kiffin received a five-year deal, according to Fox Sports, and ESPN is reporting that he will remain with Alabama through the College Football Playoff. Whatever the terms of the deal are, Kiffin will likely be taking a pay cut. He made $1.4 million this year, while previous FAU head coach Charlie Partridge took in $590,000. However, the fact that Kiffin and FAU were able to come to an agreement means that the school has made a commitment to making a salary upgrade at the head-coach position.

But this isn’t about money for Kiffin. It’s about an opportunity to once again run his own show.

The 41-year-old will get his fourth opportunity to be a head coach, and it comes at a crucial time in his career. Following his stint as an assistant under Pete Carroll at USC, Kiffin went 5-15 with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders from 2007-08, getting fired four games into the 2008 season. He returned to college and became head coach at Tennessee in 2009, but left when the USC head gig opened up after going 7-6 with the Vols. With the Trojans, he went 28-15 (including a 10-win season), yet was dismissed five games into his fourth year.

Over the last three seasons, Kiffin has served as the offensive coordinator for Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa, and he has been able to create one of the better offenses in college football. Despite having a different starting quarterback each season—Blake Sims, Jake Coker and Jalen Hurts—the Tide have made the College Football Playoff in all three years, winning the national championship last season. As talented as Hurts was when he arrived, the work Kiffin has done with him this year has been outstanding. He has pushed all the right buttons for an offense that has perfectly complemented the defense the last few seasons.

Kiffin always wanted to be a head coach again, and he couldn’t have picked a better staff to work with until a head gig opened. Now he has a chance to revive his career as a program-builder after being a finalist for the Houston job that eventually went to Major Applewhite. The reported roadblock that Kiffin and FAU faced on Friday was swatted away, as the two sides ultimately came to an agreement.

There is a lot of work to do at FAU, so Kiffin will realize very quickly that he’s not in Tuscaloosa anymore. Charlie Partridge went 3-9 in each of the last three seasons, and the Owls haven’t been to a bowl game since making back-to-back appearances under Howard Schnellenberger in 2007 and 2008. FAU is 28-67 since those bowl games. This is not like his previous stints, where Kiffin replaced championship-winning coaches at nationally prominent programs.

But there is upside. Kiffin will take over a program that has a ton of young players, a solid stadium for a Group of Five league like Conference USA, and an indoor practice facility that should be completed for the 2018 season. And he’ll also be able to take advantage of a fertile recruiting area. In fact, the recruiting game in the state of Florida just became even more real.

Kiffin joins a cast of head coaches in the Sunshine State that includes FSU’s Jimbo Fisher, Miami’s Mark Richt, Florida’s Jim McElwain, USF’s Charlie Strong, the aforementioned Davis at FIU and UCF’s Scott Frost. Good luck if you’re a head coach trying to get a student-athlete out of the state of Florida.

The success that Kiffin has enjoyed at Alabama helped him get this job, there is no question about it. But he will always have his critics for a variety of reasons, most notably for his past failings as a head coach. The gig at FAU will serve as an opportunity for him to further grow as an offensive mind and mature as the leader of an entire program. If he wins at FAU, Power Five ADs will have him on their radar when it’s their turn to take a spin on the coaching carousel.

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