You heard a lot about Lane Kiffin in his first year on the job — a lot a lot. He arrived in Boca Raton in fabulous circumstances — having been given an early dismissal out of Alabama from Nick Saban, in between the 2016 Crimson Tide’s CFP semifinal and title games — and spent his first offseason leaning in to his reputation. Remember this?
Then, his team hit the field and they were good. Really, really good. The Owls went 11-3, a perfect 9-0 in conference play en route to a Conference USA championship. They finished the season on a 10-game winning streak, and their 11 wins came by an average of 25.7 points.
So, the 2018 offseason was a good one for Kiffin, emboldened by 12 straight months of positive press.
And then the 2018 season started. The Owls were blitzed 63-14 at Oklahoma in the opener, and three weeks later lost by 20 at UCF on ESPN. Losses were expected in both games, to be sure, but Florida Atlantic wasn’t competitive in either game. A week after that, FAU dropped a 25-24 decision to Middle Tennessee and the Owls weren’t really heard from again on the national scene, quietly playing out a 5-7 season.
(The hidden blessing of coaching at FAU for Kiffin — being able to play out a quiet 5-7 season.)
Kiffin lost offensive coordinator Kendal Briles to Houston — Kiffin replaced him with Charlie Weis, Jr. — and in the process the Owls’ offense sputtered. Running back Devin Singletary, who set a C-USA record with 32 rushing touchdowns in 2017, saw his per carry average drop from 6.38 to 5.16 and in the process the Owls’ scoring output drop nine points a game, from 40.6 to 31.1.
Heading into Year 3, FAU AD Brian White showed support for Kiffin, saying he’s looking at tweaking pretty much everything.
“I think there’s a lot of tweaks, and I think Lane knows that,” said White told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “He’s a really good coach and a really smart guy.
“He’s looking at — it’s not just one or two things — but it’s every aspect of this program: What did we do in the 11-win season that we didn’t do in the five-win season? There’s culture there. There’s leadership there — not only from the coaching perspective but the student-athlete perspective. So we’re looking at a whole lot of different things, but they’re working hard each and every day to figure it out and bringing in even better recruits every year.”
Kiffin has been a man of many skins during his firebrand career and this one — the out-of-the-spotlight Kiffin — is one he hasn’t worn since, what, 2001, when he was a 26-year-old tight ends coach for what was then a down USC program?
Like every other stage of his career, this next one is bound to be interesting.