Florida Atlantic knows what it is getting in Lane Kiffin, who quit an SEC head coaching job at Tennessee after one season and soon will be telling area recruits that he’s committed to the Owls heart and soul.
Kiffin is the guy who once offended the entire community of Pahokee by portraying their home as a place where people don’t have enough money “to even have shoes or a shirt on,” yet soon he’ll be out in western Palm Beach County trying to scoop up players from the Blue Devils’ 2016 state championship team.
He’s a maker of headlines, primarily related to the major coaching jobs that have been given and then taken away from him, and even after having his reputation scrubbed by living and winning under Nick Saban’s strict rule at Alabama, he wasn’t able to convince Houston and South Florida to commit their rising programs to his care.
So FAU knows all of this about Kiffin, and supposedly more after a weekend of negotiations, but the Owls are hiring him anyway. A news conference to announce his hiring is reportedly scheduled for 10 a.m. on Tuesday. The school needs someone who can push them past three wins per season, and honestly if Kiffin can’t do that, they should just drop the sport and convert that beautiful new stadium into a roofed concert venue.
FAU needs a coach who can fight it out with Butch Davis, FIU’s new boss, and Charlie Strong, South Florida’s new coach, for the kids that the heavyweight programs at FSU, Florida and Miami don’t get.
FAU needs, more than anything else, a reason for people to care that they have a football program in the first place.
It’s a shotgun wedding of sorts, with Kiffin falling all the way down to Conference USA in his hunt for head coaching redemption, but they’re hitched, the Owls and the prowler, and here’s hoping this lasts longer than a similar union did between Bobby Petrino and Western Kentucky.
Those two came together in 2013 when Petrino got fired by Arkansas over ethical issues and needed a place to start over. One 8-4 season at Western Kentucky was all he needed, and now Petrino is at Louisville with Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson for his quarterback.
It could happen just as quickly for Kiffin, for the reason that everything happens quickly for him.
He was head coach of the Oakland Raiders at 31. A hero at Tennessee for tweaking Urban Meyer but a villain just one year later for taking what he deemed a promotion at USC. Now three seasons into a successful offensive coordinator stint that had Alabama fans loving him, Kiffin is gone again to be a head coach, but only after flirting with as assistant’s job at LSU, the Crimson Tide’s bitter SEC West rival.
Is this good for FAU? Of course.
Even if Kiffin follows form, setting up the old revival tent and then tearing it down in the middle of the night to skip town for somewhere else, there will be a wave of national media visiting Boca Raton next summer to do stand-ups in front of the school’s fine facilities and waving palm trees.
Even if he postpones most of the heavy-lifting on this new job until mid-January, every mention and every image of Kiffin during Alabama’s College Football Playoff run will include the name of FAU.
Even if Kiffin puts his foot in his mouth over something, or gets the NCAA enforcement division riled up, or simply finds that there isn’t enough talent in the program to push Louisiana Tech and Old Dominion out of the way in this league, the Owls still will have taken their biggest home-run swing since agreeing to let Howard Schnellenberger sell his original concept of football in paradise.
And if it turns out that Kiffin has matured to the point that he really can teach FAU players about doing things the right way and earning every success, that would be a fine surprise.
Fun is the operative word at this moment, however. Kiffin makes FAU football fun, in the way that storm chasers have fun. There is danger. There is drama. There is power in all its magnetic glory.
Watch it up close or from a distance but as long as Kiffin is there, you’ll watch it. He’s not the kind of man anyone has ever been able to ignore.