Entering Year 3, how much longer will Lane Kiffin stay at FAU? And what jobs would make sense if he left after 2019?
Let me make something clear.
The FAU version of Lane Kiffin is fantastic. The Lane Kiffin who tweets what he wants — trolling Nick Saban is what we all want — without worrying about having to tiptoe around what an athletic director or boosters might think is the Lane Kiffin we need. However long we get the FAU version of Kiffin, I’m here for it.
But how long will we get it? And what might the next version of Kiffin be? Or rather, where?
Kiffin already hit the “over” on whatever over/under was set for him when he took over at FAU. Entering Year 3, he certainly outlasted the majority of predictions for how long he’d be in Boca Raton. Given his history, it was easy to think Kiffin would be one-and-done or perhaps “two and through.”
Maybe now it’s “three and we’ll see.” Like, Kiffin will weigh his options if he’s able to turn around last year’s 5-win disaster. For all we know, Kiffin planned on leaving FAU after 2 years, but the disappointing season changed his options.
I believe Kiffin was steadfast on rebuilding his reputation as a fast mover. With perhaps the exception of the Tennessee job after Butch Jones was fired, which was formulated more from Vols fans than anything else, it doesn’t seem like Kiffin has even been linked to any potential openings. To me, that suggests Kiffin has a loose timeline for how he wants this thing to go.
(I realize that Kiffin has never said he has any intentions of leaving FAU, which puts him in the group of every coach in college football history who didn’t publicly express their desires to seek a new job.)
The beauty of Kiffin’s situation is twofold. He’s not an up-and-coming Group of 5 coach who needs to cash in if he has a good season. Kiffin’s financial situation is a bit different from most. The guy isn’t hurting for money, and in all likelihood, he won’t pick his next destination because of it. At 44, he still has plenty of time to get back to a contender.
Because of that and the stability Kiffin has at FAU — he got a 10-year deal after just 1 season — he can be a bit picky. There’s probably not a ton of motivation for him to leave Boca after Year 3 if someone like Iowa State or Syracuse called on him to replace head coaches who moved on to bigger and better opportunities.
If someone like Auburn or Florida State came along? That’s a different story. Those types of jobs don’t come around every day, and if both programs do make head coaching moves, you get the sense that they’ll be desperate to regain some immediate relevance.
The Auburn version of Kiffin might not be as free-spirited, but goodness, we’d all salivate at the potential storylines there.
Speaking of potential storylines, I’m down for some USC reunion talk. I don’t think the Trojans would go down that road again just 6 years after he was left at the airport tarmac, but if he were somehow offered the unprecedented opportunity to succeed the coach who succeeded him (that’ll put your brain in a pretzel), that’d be an awfully tough job to turn down. The full-circle redemption story would captivate college football to no end.
As far was we know, Kiffin hasn’t been officially offered any Power 5 head coaching jobs since he started at FAU in 2017. I’d be interested to see how Kiffin would react if an opportunity like Ole Miss opened up.
Shoot, maybe the thought of returning to the SEC after 2 awkward exits from traditional powers isn’t part of this rebirth. Or maybe that’s exactly the way Kiffin plans on taking his next step.
If this is all part of a master plan to restore his tainted image, nobody is going to bash Kiffin for leaving FAU after 3 years if he goes out on a high note. Considering his team ranks No. 96 in FBS in percentage of returning production, getting back to the 10-win mark from Year 1 is obviously not a given (Kiffin did add former Florida State QB Deondre Francois on Monday).
And again, even if Kiffin leads FAU to a Top 25 season and continues to restore his image in the process, it still might not be enough to make him a top option as a big-time Power 5 coach again.
Don’t forget that last August, Yahoo’s Pete Thamel polled 15 athletic directors to get their anonymous take on whether they’d hire Kiffin. Of the 15 athletic directors, 11 said “no,” 2 said “maybe” and 2 said “yes.” That was before FAU went 5-7. I’d be curious to know what those poll results would look like now.
But we should just accept the belief that Kiffin’s approval rate is never going to be 100%. It doesn’t have to be for him to continue his climb back up the college football coaching ladder.
Whatever Kiffin does, I won’t be surprised. If he elects for fishing in the Atlantic Ocean and continuing the first job he’s probably ever had that didn’t demand constant perfection, good for him and good for us. We’ll continue to get the most fun version of Kiffin yet.
If he is “three and we’ll see” or “four and let’s explore,” college football will get a little more interesting. We’ll get to talk about Kiffin potentially rebuilding a contender and getting back on the sport’s biggest stage.
Which path will Kiffin choose and when? I don’t know, but any possible next stop on the Lane Train seems like a win-win for the rest of us.