Lane Kiffin laughs off criticism as he gets set for first season at FAU
BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — Lane Kiffin is trolling you.
When Ole Miss parted ways with coach Hugh Freeze last month and Kiffin quickly followed a slew of Rebel-related accounts on Twitter, Florida Atlantic’s coach did so knowing it would spark Lane-is-going-there talk. He orchestrated the worst hype video ever made back in the spring, because he knew a real one wouldn’t get noticed. He had Miami Hurricanes legend Clinton Portis speak to FAU players in Owls gear.
Those are just some of his recent highlights.
Kiffin makes winning Twitter battles look easy. Winning at FAU, that will be considerably tougher.
College football’s lightning rod is no longer in the pressure-cookers that are the SEC, the Pac-12 and the NFL — and has taken over a team that has lost 27 of 36 games over the past three seasons, one that was picked near the very bottom of Conference USA this season.
He’s starting over. And he doesn’t care what people think.
“I do not think there are misconceptions about me among people that know me, or have worked with me, or players that we’ve coached,” Kiffin said. “I think if you talk to those people they would say completely different things than what people who have never met me would. I know they’re dramatically different. I worry about what people who know me would say, not what Joe Fan or some writer would.”
Still only 42 years old — 11 of the 13 other coaches in C-USA are older than Kiffin — his career has already had more than its share of drama. He was 31 when the Oakland Raiders made him their coach, 32 when he got hired at Tennessee and 34 when he took over at USC. The Oakland job ended with him getting fired, the USC job ended with him getting fired in the middle of the night at an airport.
And then came the last three seasons, where he was working under Nick Saban at Alabama. They won a lot. They seemed to clash a lot as well.
Kiffin said Saban would chew his butt out.
“I wish him the best,” Saban said.
Here’s the irony: Saban has the Napoleonic reputation, one of a control freak with a maniacal eye for detail. Kiffin’s persona is more surfer-guy type, without a care in the world. Truth is, Saban is nowhere near as dictatorial as the perception suggests, and Kiffin is nowhere near as carefree as some might be led to believe.
At FAU, Kiffin will be a CEO disguised as a head coach. There’s no one in college football better at that than Saban. And Kiffin just studied for three years under the master, though instead of saying “Alabama” he has taken to saying “the last place I was at.”
“I’m much more prepared now,” Kiffin said.
His players already are duly impressed. The Owls no longer see Kiffin as some celebrity coach. They see him as their coach, someone is going to get them to a better place than 3-9.
“To everybody else, he’s “Heyyy, Lane Kiffin,'” Owls running back Greg “Buddy” Howell said. “To me, he’s coach. He’s somebody who’s well-known with a rep. But you’ve got to just soak it in, take the stuff that he gives you and run with it. How he’s running this program, how he’s running practices, obviously he’s been around a championship team so he’s been around winning. I want to embrace that, take it all in and just keep it going.”
Kiffin took considerable criticism for his decision to hire Kendal Briles — who was at Baylor under his father, Art Briles, and remained there after the elder Briles was fired from the troubled program — as FAU’s offensive coordinator. He hears all the time that he’s merely using FAU as a quick career fix and that he’ll surely be elsewhere next year. He reads the less-than-favorable tweets that get sent his way daily.
Those moments for Kiffin all get forgotten when his office is filled with kids, either his own or the children of other staff members. His brother Chris is running the defense. His father Monte is with the Owls as a defensive analyst. It is, truly, a family affair, just as Kiffin envisioned when he took the job in December.
“That’s the way it’s always been for us,” Chris Kiffin said.
Put simply, Lane Kiffin seems happy. And he thinks everything will fall into place, even though he knows plenty of critics hope otherwise.
“I just laugh. I think it’s all really funny,” Kiffin said. “I think it’s really funny that people really get consumed by what they get consumed by, and that people judge as fast as they judge people that they’ve never met. I’d probably say 10 years ago that would really bother me. I used to read every article, and now I laugh. There’s nothing I haven’t seen.”