Kiffin reflects on time in the SEC, first spring with FAU
It’s been six months since Lane Kiffin took over the reins of Florida Atlantic’s football program.
The former Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Volunteers and Southern California head coach has concluded his first spring practices and now looks toward his inaugural season at Florida Atlantic this fall.
Kiffin sat down with Saturday Down South to discuss his new job in Boca Raton and his experiences in the SEC.
On taking over at FAU
SDS: You’ve put together a staff that includes your brother Chris and father, Monte, and some recognizable names including Kendal Briles, son of former Baylor head coach Art Briles, as offensive coordinator. How well did it come together?
Kiffin: We have guys that have had a lot of success at big programs, so [players] come here and get coached like they could at bigger programs. It’s a very good staff and we did a good job in signing our first class in February and we’re getting ready to sign another one this year.
SDS: Speaking of recruiting, in Florida you’re up against the likes of Butch Davis (Florida International), Jimbo Fisher (Florida State), Jim McElwain (Florida), Mark Richt (Miami), and Charlie Strong (South Florida).
Kiffin: It’s really challenging for myself and our staff because there are so many great coaches and assistants in the state, so we’re all just banging away at it and just trying to get better every day.
SDS: Who’s your quarterback?
Kiffin: De’Andre Johnson is a guy that everyone assumes will be the starter because he’s been a state of Florida player of the year in high school before going to Florida State – he did well this spring. But Jason Driskel (brother of former Florida QB Jeff) did really well too this spring. So it’s going to be a good competition going into the season.
On his time at Alabama
Kiffin: I’ve had time to look at it. It was really a great run. You look at winning three straight [championships] in the SEC and it’s the first time since [Steve] Spurrier did it at Florida [1993-96, four straight]. It was really amazing for Coach Saban to do that now, with it being harder with scholarship reductions. It’s more competitive now with the 85 scholarship players; it’s different than it used to be. It was special and to be able to do it with great players and great kids was awesome.
SDS: The challenging part of winning three consecutive SEC championships was doing it with three different quarterbacks: Blake Sims (2014), Jake Coker (2015) and Jalen Hurts (2016).
Kiffin: It was fun. It made me better having three different quarterbacks that were different type players. We developed the offense around them and did different things. Learning different things was great.
SDS: Did Hurts’ success as a true freshman surprise you at all?
Kiffin: It was awesome to see. He just seemed to never get rattled on game day and really just made so many plays. I know he’s taking a lot of heat from his last game [Clemson], because people remember what you did last, but reality is that he was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year as a true freshman and the first since Herschel Walker to do so.
On 2009 at Tennessee
SDS: You nearly upset Alabama in your lone season leading the Vols. It took Terrence Cody blocking Daniel Lincoln’s 44-yard field goal attempt as time expired for Bama to hold on for a 12-10 win. Nick Saban went on to his first national championship that year.
Kiffin: Obviously we would have liked to win that game. It was kind of a mathematical game that you could never think would happen. We scored a touchdown and they didn’t score any touchdowns and we both attempted four field goals. And we lost. It’s like winning the lottery on the other end. It was great for our guys, they developed confidence; we had Alabama beat and just didn’t finish it off.
SDS: Your QB that year, Jonathan Crompton, bounced back from a tough 2008 season.
Kiffin: He took a lot of heat and that wasn’t easy there because of people not feeling he played well enough prior to that year. He really did a great job that year, he won some big games and is a great kid and from a great family.
SDS: Is Tennessee going in the right direction now?
Kiffin: I think Coach [Butch Jones] has done a great job there. They really have had some tough breaks down the stretch. They started out really fast with some big wins and it seems like they are right there and need one break to get it done. … Injuries take their toll, especially as the season keeps going on. It’s a tough sport and that’s why it’s one of the hardest sports to maintain winning because of that factor and so many variables.
SDS: The Nashville Predators, in their first Stanley Cup Final, are generating all kinds of excitement. There’s talk of them playing a game at Neyland Stadium in the future.
Kiffin: That would be crazy and would be pretty neat.