Lane Kiffin has FAU focused on surpassing last year’s accomplishments
BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — There was a banner on the Florida Atlantic practice field commemorating the team’s accomplishments from last season, which included an 11-3 record, a Conference USA championship and a blowout victory in a bowl game.
That banner is no more.
FAU coach Lane Kiffin ordered it removed from the fence adjacent to the field before the Owls started fall training camp on Friday. He sees little, if any, reason to see, think about or revisit anything that happened last season. It’s a new year and a new team, and he wants his players looking forward — not looking back, not even at banners.
“Didn’t make a whole lot of sense, when we’re trying to move forward, to have the ex-girlfriend over at the house every day,” Kiffin said.
With that, welcome to a season of high expectations for Kiffin and the Owls.
FAU is the preseason favorite to win another C-USA title and might have a chance to reach the AP Top 25 for the first time in program history this fall. It brings back a running back in Devin Singletary who led the nation with 32 rushing touchdowns a season ago. School officials have even orchestrated a Heisman Trophy campaign for Singletary, replete with a billboard over an interstate not far from campus.
Kiffin signed off on the Heisman promotion, though he remains leery of what he calls “rat poison” — a phrase he tweeted often last season when the Owls shook off a 1-3 start and finished the year on a 10-game winning streak. He borrowed the phrase from Alabama coach Nick Saban, under whom he worked for three years before coming to FAU.
His definition of rat poison?
“Listening to things that are being said about how good you’re going to be versus what you’re really doing,” Kiffin said. “You buy into that and you forget what got you there. I didn’t invent the phrase. I think my mentor invented the phrase. I’m just copying from the best.”
He can’t stop the talk from happening on the outside. He sure can limit it inside the Owls’ locker room.
And his players understand why the banner is gone.
“The thing is, our coaches do so much for us and they hold us to a certain pinnacle and you have to maintain that,” receiver Deandre McNeal said. “You’re either standing still or you’re moving forward.”
It’s not just the practice field where the no-looking-back rule applies. There are still banners from FAU’s bowl wins under Howard Schnellenberger in 2007 and 2008 that hang in the lobby of the athletic department’s primary building on campus, along with some trophies and team photos.
There’s nothing like that from the 2017 season out there.
“It is last year,” Singletary said. “This year is a new year. We’ve definitely got to focus on this year and make it happen. It was kind of easy to reset your mind. That’s in the past. We’ve got to focus on the now.”
The opener might make that focus come easily.
FAU starts with one of the toughest Week 1 tests out there, when it travels to Oklahoma to meet a Sooners team that is expected to start the season near the top of the national rankings and figures to be a contender to make the College Football Playoff.
“Everybody still wants to talk about last year, wants to talk about beating Oklahoma,” Kiffin said. “Well, let’s remember, I don’t think the program’s ever beaten a Power Five team. So to start sitting here talking about, `Oh, you should beat Oklahoma, a top-five team.’ Well, we’re a long way from that.”
And gazing at a 2017 banner won’t help any new ones get put up in 2018.