BOCA RATON – When Lane Kiffin took over the FAU football program in December he encountered a displeasing comfort level.
“I think people get comfortable, sometimes, losing,” Kiffin said. “If you’ve lost for a long time people get used to it.”
While the level of comfort can be questioned, the losing characterization can’t.
The Owls fired Charlie Partridge, Kiffin’s predecessor, following three consecutive 3-9 seasons. FAU hasn’t posted a winning record since 2008 – back when Howard Schnellenberger roamed the sidelines.
At FAU, Kiffin says, the comfort level with losing manifests itself in the failure to try different approaches – ones that he’s found successful at other coaching stops.
“The answer is ‘No’ on things,” Kiffin said. “We can’t do this. This is how we did it before. Well, we need to do it differently. That’s why you bring a new staff in and bring guys that come from places like Ole Miss, that come from a place like Baylor, come from a place, USC, where they’ve won a lot of games, set a lot of records and so they think the same way that we think coming from a place like Alabama.”
Defensive coordinator Chris Kiffin and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles came to FAU from Ole Miss and Baylor, respectively. Cornerbacks coach Keynodo Hudson coached at Southern Cal, while strength and conditioning coach Wilson Love made the move with Kiffin from Alabama to Boca Raton.
While Kiffin has received some push back on his ideas within the athletic department, Kiffin counts FAU president Dr. John Kelly, who was part of the team that interviewed Kiffin for the job, among those in his corner. Following that interview Kelly opened FAU’s checkbook, signing Kiffin to a five-year contract worth $4.75 million. He also made available $1.7 million to hire assistant coaches.
Kelly frequently, often without being prompted, speaks of his goal of turning FAU football into a perennial Top 25 program.
“It’s very unusual for the president to be in the interview process,” Kiffin said. “And for him to be there was really a huge part of taking this job because when he gave the speech about being there at Clemson, saw the impact of what (coach Dabo Swinney) did and how, once they started winning, it affects the whole university. He’s been great. He talks about unbridled ambition. I see it.”
FAU is one month removed first spring practice under Kiffin. The Owls showed some offensive explosiveness during those 15 practices – though not in the spring game, which the defense dominated – but injuries along the offensive and defensive lines, along with at linebacker, hampered Kiffin’s ability to accurately assess the Owls’ talent heading into the fall.
The Owls enter their second-consecutive fall unsettled at the quarterback position. Kiffin has yet to see linebacker Azeez A-Shaair, last year’s leading tackler, or defensive tackle Ray Ellis, a starter before missing all of last season with a knee injury, at full speed.
“We’ve got some pretty special guys, especially offensively,” Kiffin said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do defensively and with the bigs – offensive and defensive line.”
Kiffin has some of the parts he’s looking for – frequently pointing to the wide receiver, running back and tight end units as being more talented than he expected. He also isn’t lacking in confidence when it comes to his coaching ability.
But given the opportunity, Kiffin isn’t prepared to declare these Owls a bowl team – yet.
“I don’t know that,” Kiffin said. “There’s way too many variables.”