BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — Lane Kiffin was only 31 when the Oakland Raiders provided his first opportunity to become a head coach, and he insisted that he was ready.
He was wrong.
And he probably wasn’t ready to coach Tennessee at 32 or USC at 34, either.
Now 41, and freely acknowledging that he’s made more than a few mistakes along the way, Kiffin thinks he’s truly ready this time to lead a program – and Florida Atlantic is betting he’s right. Kiffin signed his five-year contract to become the Owls’ new coach on Tuesday, a deal paying him $950,000 annually and coming with a stiff buyout if he wants to leave anytime soon.
“The things you go through, if you look at them the right way and you learn from them, they make you stronger,” Kiffin said. “I know that sounds like a line, but they do. I’ve got a unique life with a lot of unique experiences, but that makes me so much better prepared and so confident about doing this. Probably 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have gone about this the right way. But you change.”
He’ll live a double life for the next few weeks. Kiffin is still the offensive coordinator No. 1 Alabama – he’s going to be there for Tide coach Nick Saban’s 7:30 a.m. staff meeting in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday – preparing for a College Football Playoff semifinal against Washington on Dec. 31 while trying to build a staff at FAU.
Some major changes await. Kiffin once counted 48 people at an Alabama staff meeting; there is no way to get 48 people into what will be his staff room at FAU. But in three years under Saban, Kiffin learned from one of the best in the college game and plans to incorporate those lessons in sunny Boca Raton.
“People grow up,” FAU athletic director Patrick Chun said. “It’s a small enough industry where you can call people, we have mutual friends who would tell me what they think. We spent two three-hour settings together and the good thing with Lane, you don’t have to spend a minute evaluating the football piece. This was about fits, values, who are you … that’s where he won me over.”
Kiffin poked plenty of fun at himself Tuesday, referencing some of his well-known past squabbles with coaches such as Urban Meyer and how Saban seemed to have a penchant for giving him a number of “ass-chewins” during his three years with the Tide.
Chun said he’s certain FAU is getting a more humble, less brash Kiffin – who has family in Florida, including his father, longtime coach Monte Kiffin.
“He simply wanted to be the next head coach of FAU more than anyone else we talked to,” Chun said.
At Alabama, Kiffin was part of a program that has been ranked every week and no lower than No. 3 in any of the last 21 installments of the AP Top 25. At FAU, he inherits a program that has won 15 games in the last four years and has never received a single vote in the AP poll.
FAU’s last home game this season drew less than 6,000 fans. With Kiffin, the Owls expect plenty of extra eyeballs.
“The school in the world that is trending most on Twitter in the last 24 hours is FAU,” school president John Kelly said.
Kiffin becomes the fifth coach in FAU history, after Howard Schnellenberger, Carl Pelini, Brian Wright and Charlie Partridge. The Owls are giving Kiffin $1.7 million for assistant coach salaries, and his buyout starts at $2.5 million in the first year and decreases by $500,000 in each subsequent year.
Kiffin went 5-15 with the Raiders in 2007 and 2008. He was 7-6 at Tennessee in 2009, then bolted for USC – where he went 28-15 in parts of four seasons. The Owls hope both sides can revive the other; FAU went 3-9 in each of the last three seasons and hasn’t been to a bowl since 2008.
“It was very obvious that Florida Atlantic is committed to winning and committed to doing it together,” Kiffin said. “At Florida Atlantic, we will see great things happen. For us to do the impossible, we have to see the invisible.”
Kiffin met with the FAU players on Monday night, about two weeks after Chun met with them to tell them why he fired Partridge and promised he’d deliver the best coach to lead FAU forward.
He felt that was a promise kept.
“I was able to present to our team the best coach possible,” Chun said.