When Lane Kiffin announced that he was departing from the University of Alabama to become the head coach at Florida Atlantic University, he was scoffed at. The offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide had been berated by Nick Saban constantly during the season, but this still seemed like a step down. And surely, the Tide wouldn’t miss him… right?
You might recall that Alabama fell in the National Championship game only a week later. Whether that can be attributed to Kiffin or not is up for debate. But as for all of the people that doubted Kiffin’s judgement about going to FAU, know this: He made the right choice. Kiffin’s Owl’s are already bowl eligible at 7-3, are riding a 6 game win streak, and are a win away from clinching a spot in the C-USA championship game. Kiffin has the players believing in this program, and seems on his way to making them a power. In his first month, he was able to acquire the the top recruiting class in the conference.
A single coach turning an entire program around from nothing would not be new. Miami went from having their program nearly cancelled to a national power in a flash under coach Howard Schnellenberger. Schnellenberger employed a fresh recruiting strategy where he targeted kids from the Miami area. Given the talent collecting there, Schnellenberger was able to build his team around this core. Kiffin too may have to rely on a new tactic for recruiting. Ironically, Schnellenberger later found his way to FAU and tried to employ the same strategy of recruiting local Miami kids. Unfortunately for him, the plan that worked for Miami would not have the same effect at FAU. So it’s time to switch it up, and go national. Kiffin has already done this, reeling in more than double the out of state recruits in his first class. Kiffin knows that recruiting is going to have to change for the program to be successful, and he’s already well on his way to doing that.
Stanford experienced a lightning quick turnaround as well. Under Jim Harbaugh, the Cardinal became one of the Pac12’s top teams, and their success has lasted long after Harbaugh’s departure. Stanford had previously been a strong team, but by the 2000s rolled around, it was a perennial loser. When Harbaugh took over, the team was still not anyone’s radar for anything but academics. How do you put your team on the radar? A signature win. After going 1-11 the previous season, and starting out 1-3 in Harbaugh’s first season, the Cardinal beat 41 point favorite #2 USC. The win put Stanford back in the minds of all of the college football world and, more importantly, of recruits.
Does Kiffin’s FAU have the same potential? Well, they certainly have the opportunities. In 2018, they visit Oklahoma. And in 2019, the Ohio State Buckeyes will get a visit from the Owls. Of course, it would require a win to really mean something. But both Oklahoma and Ohio State are perennial CFP contenders, and a win would catapult FAU into the spotlight.
The bounce back has been monumental to this point. Over the previous four seasons, FAU has combined for a record of 9-27. They have a shot to not only match that, but surpass that in Kiffin’s first season. The Owl’s appeared in ESPN’s power rankings at number 25. Now the only one question needs to be asked: Does FAU have the staying power?
Photo by Maxx Jaxx