'Group of Five' countdown, No. 3: Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic
Some names in sports evoke strong reactions in both directions with nobody sitting on the fence. A-Rod. LeBron. Tonya Harding. Nancy Kerrigan. Tiger. And Lane Kiffin.
No. 3 — Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic
Record at school: 11-3
Overall record: 46-24
Impressive win: vs. Akron, 50-3, Boca Raton Bowl, Dec. 19, 2017.
Why he’s on the list: Kansas stopped paying Charlie Weis at the end of 2016. Believe it or not, there exists a scenario wherein Weis could begin paying back Kansas on an annual basis with a sliver of the $12.5 million he earned for coaching two-and-one-third seasons of a five-year contract.
Here’s how: Kansas hires Lane Kiffin as its next football coach, Kiffin brings his offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis Jr., and the OC’s father rents a suite from which to watch his son’s games.
Many athletic directors would cringe at the mere mention of Kiffin’s name for a number of reasons. He’s brash, outspoken, antsy. Kiffin at various times has blasted Urban Meyer and his former boss, Nick Saban. He’s not afraid to say anything and he’s more than willing to let it fly on Twitter.
For another, he left Tennessee after just one season, bolting for USC, so athletic directors might have trouble trusting that he’ll stick around.
Kansas athletic director Jeff Long, who starts Aug. 1, never has shied from hiring coaches with strong personalities. He hired Bobby Petrino and Bret Bielema at Arkansas. Might Long have the guts to hire Kiffin? He might.
Born in Lincoln, Neb., Kiffin, son of long-time NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, played quarterback for Fresno State and immediately started his coaching career at his alma mater (1997-98), Colorado State (1999), the Jacksonville Jaguars (2000), USC (2001-2006) and then at the age of 32 became head coach of the Oakland Raiders (2007-08), getting fired early in his second season.
Then he went 7-5 at Tennessee in his lone year in Knoxville bolting for USC, where he went 28-15.
USC athletic director Pat Haden fired Kiffin at 3 a.m. at LAX after the team flight arrived from a 62-41 loss at Arizona State.
It didn’t take Kiffin long to find a good job, hired by Saban to become Alabama’s offensive coordinator (2014-16).
Kiffin took a pay cut to leave Alabama and become head coach at Florida Atlantic, his lowest-profile, lowest-paying job in many, many years.
Yet, no season ever did more for Kiffin’s reputation as a football coach as his first with Florida Atlantic, which had not had a winning season since 2008. Kiffin got of to a 1-3 start and then the Owls rattled off 10 consecutive victories, capping the season with a 50-3 rout of Akron in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Kiffin’s Owls ranked sixth in the nation in rushing yardage, first in rushing touchdowns and eighth in scoring.
Kiffin’s likely to make the jump from the Sun Belt Conference after 2018 and it won’t be difficult for a school to get him if it’s a job that interests him. The buyout in his contract is just $2 million.
A school with the resources to pay Kiffin what he’s worth, maybe $3 million, is going to want assurances that he’ll stay long enough to build a winner. The only way to get those is by putting a big buyout in his contract, maybe somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million.
Kiffin has a season as good as last season’s he’ll be one of the hottest coaches available. It might be difficult cramming a big buyout into his contract. If he’s not interested in signing a contract with a big buyout, he’s not the right man for the job.