Lane Kiffin’s breakup with Alabama before national title game does FAU no favors

 

Lane Kiffin always was an odd fit at Alabama.

You can’t say it was a bad fit. Not even close. Not with College Football Playoff appearances all three years he was the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator and a shot a second straight national title for Alabama next week. If Kiffin was doing a lousy job, Nick Saban would have kicked him to the curb right away.

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31: Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin of the Alabama Crimson Tide and Head Coach Nick Saben of the Alabama Crimson Tide walk during pre game of the 2016 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome on December 31, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA – DECEMBER 31: Former offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin of the Alabama Crimson Tide and Head Coach Nick Saban talk during pre game of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome on December 31, 2016. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

When the announcement came Monday, however, that Kiffin won’t be calling plays for the championship game against Clemson, the personality gap between this flashy, me-first coach and every other Saban assistant was made evident one last time.

“We made the decision because it was in the best interest of our players, our program and for Lane for him to assume his duties at Florida Atlantic,” Saban said. “We mutually agreed that this was best for both programs.”

Compare that to what Saban was saying about Kirby Smart last January, back when Georgia had already hired Alabama’s former defensive coordinator as head coach but Smart was permitted to stay with the Tide through the College Football Playoff title game against Clemson.

“You know, it’s sort of like you have a son and he’s moving away, and you want to see him do really, really well,” Saban said of Smart at the time.

“I certainly appreciate the fact that he’s stuck here with us and done a really good job as far as trying to finish this year for our players. I think that’s the number one reason that he’s here.”

The Georgia job is a whole lot bigger than FAU, with more impactful recruiting energy to be spent in keeping up with the SEC neighbors. Yet Smart saw the value of standing in the confetti shower of a national championship celebration and decided to do it the hard way, postponing many of his new duties at Georgia to get his hands on another trophy at Alabama.

“Kids see it,” Smart said after Alabama beat Clemson 45-40, not exactly his greatest night as a coordinator but a trophy moment all the same. “They identify with it. Me being on TV and being in the national championship did way more for me tonight than say somebody who wasn’t.”

Now Kiffin joins the vast majority coaches who won’t be on the field at Tampa next Monday when Alabama and Clemson do it again.

That’s too bad for him and too bad for FAU, which can use every precious syllable of network TV conversation in the raising of its Div. I football profile. That’s why the Owls hired Kiffin in the first place. Win games in the fall, sure, but get people talking all year round.

[Some leftover nuggets from Lane Kiffin’s introduction at FAU]

[The Lane Kiffin revival tent puts down stakes in Boca Raton]

[Lamar Jackson’s Heisman campaign drew comparisons to Tim Tebow’s]

What caused the breakup at this critical moment for Alabama football? Probably nothing major, but when you lose focus on Saban’s objectives for even an instant, that’s a tidal wave of trouble in Tuscaloosa.

A couple of times Kiffin was late to meetings prior to the Peach Bowl national semifinal, including Media Day, when he missed the bus back to the team hotel. Then, in an easy win over Washington, the Alabama offense was good but not great.

Couldn’t have helped, either, when Sports Illustrated came out with a long article about Kiffin house-hunting in Boca Raton during Christmas week, with $4 million waterfront homes on his target list so that boats and jet-skis will always be at the ready.

Made me think of the more common SEC coaching profile, Will Muschamp. When he was plucked off Texas’ staff to be head coach of the Florida Gators, Muschamp lived in a Gainesville hotel for several months while waiting on his family to finish school and join him. All work, no play, the Saban way.

That takes us back to that recent SI story. While referencing the relative social isolation of life in Tuscaloosa, Kiffin told the writer who tagged along on his house search, “This will come across wrong, but it’s like dog years. Three years is like 21.”

He knew it would come out wrong but he said it anyway. That’s Kiffin, who always goes back to smooth things over, but the joke too frequently is on him.

Why would a guy who desperately needed the structure of Saban’s system to restore credibility to his own career get sloppy the moment that the payoff of a new job is secured? It doesn’t say much about the maturity that Kiffin supposedly has gained since his days at Tennessee and USC, or about his stated desire at the FAU introductory press conference to keep it boring for a while.

None of this means, of course, that Kiffin can’t be successful at FAU, or that the Owls won’t benefit from his magnetism and his coaching, or that Nick Saban regrets the modernization that Kiffin brought to the Alabama offense.

The bottom line is that Kiffin has been quiet for a long time. It’s bound to get noisy at FAU, and fast, because the goal is to keep him around for more than a few crazy headlines, and it’s unlikely that anyone over there is going to have the nerve to tell him to tone it down or else.

 

 

 

 

The Lane Kiffin revival tent is coming to FAU

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.

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 31: Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin for the Alabama Crimson Tide looks on during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl against the Michigan State Spartans at AT&T Stadium on December 31, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Former Alabama offensive coordinator and new Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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.

[Might as well just let ESPN directly manage College Football Playoff selection]

[Lamar Jackson’s Heisman campaigns draws some comparisons to Tebow]

[FSU keeping Jimbo is program’s most important news since hiring Jimbo]

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.