FAU is hiring Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin as its new head coach, per multiple reports.
Lane Kiffin has accepted the head coaching position at Florida Atlantic, sources tell @ClowESPN and @McMurphyESPN— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) December 12, 2016
BREAKING #Alabama OC Lane Kiffin accepted the #FAU HC job, sources tell @FoxSports. He's getting a 5-year deal.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) December 12, 2016
(Yes, he still plans on coaching Alabama through the Playoff, he said recently.)
Kiffin has extensive ties to Florida, after his father, Monte, was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator for more than a decade. Conference USA’s FAU was in the market upon firing Charlie Partridge after a third 3-9 season in a row. (This also means the state of Florida is loaded with big-name head coaches.)
It’s the fourth head coaching job of Kiffin’s career and the third on the collegiate level. He was the Oakland Raiders’ head coach in 2007 and 2008, Tennessee’s in 2009, and USC’s from 2010 to 2013. Each of those departures has been unceremonious: midseason firings by the Raiders and USC, and a hasty, late-night press conference to announce he was leaving Knoxville for the Trojans after the 2009 season.
Kiffin’s reputation had declined after USC fired him, but it’s rebounded considerably in the three years he’s spent as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator. Alabama has four- and five-star talent at every position, but Kiffin deserves credit for the Tide unit that won a national title last year and been No. 1 for the entirety of 2016 so far.
He’s updated Alabama’s offense with spread running concepts that helped true freshman Jalen Hurts dominate the SEC, and he’s made Alabama’s offense look a lot like other college offenses, only better. Alabama didn’t immediately jump into the pool with other programs that transitioned to spread-oriented offenses over the last five years. But the Tide are there now, and they’re thriving, thanks largely to Kiffin.
Kiffin’s career has already had enough chapters to fill a book.
The coach, 41, is the son of longtime NFL and college assistant Monte Kiffin. He played quarterback at Fresno State in the 1990s, and he got into coaching immediately afterward: as a GA at Fresno, then at Colorado State, then as a quality control assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2000.
In 2001, Kiffin started at USC as the tight ends coach. He coached receivers from 2002 to 2004 and became the offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll in 2005. After two seasons in that job — near the height of USC’s Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, and LenDale White excellence — Al Davis hired him to the head job in Oakland.
Kiffin’s Raiders tenure didn’t go well. He was 5-15 in a season and change, and Davis’ firing press conference was more like a public execution. In what ESPN called an “unprecedented” meeting with reporters, Davis said he “picked the wrong guy” and that under Kiffin’s leadership, “the pattern just disturbed me.”
“I'm firing him for cause right now,” Davis said at the time. “I'm not firing him for anything else other than cause."
Tennessee wasn’t dissuaded of Kiffin’s potential and hired him just months after Oakland fired him. Kiffin replaced the legendary Phillip Fulmer after the latter went 5-7 in his last year before retirement, and he went 7-6 in his only year leading the Vols. (His successor, Derek Dooley, had a much more disastrous run.)
At that point, USC was reeling from an NCAA investigation that would wipe out a bunch of Kiffin and Carroll’s success together. Carroll bolted for the NFL, and in turn, Kiffin bolted for Los Angeles when the Trojans offered him the chance to be his former boss’s replacement. Kiffin said in a hasty press conference that he’d have only left Tennessee for USC. Vols fans went to the streets and chanted “Fuck you, Kiffin.”
What happened at USC was an apparent turning point.
Kiffin went 28-15 in just less than 41⁄2 seasons, which wasn’t horrible but was a far cry from USC’s brilliance under Carroll. Kiffin recruited solidly but didn’t win enough, and after leaving Tennessee, he wasn’t a sympathetic figure to begin with.
In Sept. 2013, the Trojans returned to L.A. early in the morning from a blowout loss at Arizona State. USC athletic director Pat Haden famously asked Kiffin off the team bus, as it sat on the tarmac, and fired him in an airport terminal.
“At the end of the day, it became a gut feeling that we weren’t making the progress that I thought we should be making,” Haden said then. “It’s never the perfect time, but I thought this was the right time. Our history has been great, and we need to be great again.”
Kiffin had failed with the Raiders, walked out on Tennessee, and failed at USC. He wasn’t even 40, but he’d become something of a coaching pariah.
Then Kiffin went to Alabama, and things got better.
Alabama won a title last season and is hurtling toward another one this year. This year’s Alabama offense has been Kiffin’s best in Tuscaloosa, and maybe anywhere. Hurts has been superb as a rookie, and a powerful line has helped Alabama crush virtually everything in its path.
Kiffin’s reemergence as a head coach seems owed to more than a few productive seasons as an assistant. At Alabama, Kiffin’s at least succeeded in creating the impression that he’s a calmer, wiser coach than he was before, with hopes that Saban’s influence has rubbed off on him.
But he’s still himself. Kiffin’s offense has put beatdowns on both USC and Tennessee. He had a lot of fun beating the Trojans, 52-6, in Alabama’s opener this year, and he made time afterward to dap up a bunch of his former players. After that demolition, Kiffin spiked the ball on Twitter, referencing the precise time of day and airport where USC had cut him loose.
Post game w the game ball!!! #3:14AM-LAX pic.twitter.com/cxQkJ89254— Lane Kiffin (@Lane_Kiffin) September 4, 2016
After beating Tennessee by 39 points a few weeks later, Kiffin tossed his visor to a Vols fan. He’d previously tossed candy to some USC fans. He’s had a good time trolling Tennessee with tweets whenever he can, and he’s become a generally hilarious social media personality. It’s all new, and it’s enjoyable.
So far, he’s 0-for-3 as a head coach. But things could be better now.
Kiffin’s had three years working under the preeminent college football coach of this era. He’s been a good citizen by every public account.
Just as importantly, the things Kiffin has always been good at, he’s still good at. Alabama has blue-chip talent everywhere, but Kiffin has undeniably put that talent in good position to succeed, and some of it’s there because of him.
There’s almost no such thing as a sure thing. Kiffin might flame out again, and he might never get another chance. But he also might succeed, making everyone involved here look extremely smart.