PHOTO GALLERY: Schmidt Groundbreaking
BOCA RATON – New FAU coach Lane Kiffin finally explained to the public what really happened to cause him to leave Alabama one week prior to the national title game.
Well, he kind of did. Maybe. Not really.
Addressing the crowd gathered for the ceremonial groundbreaking for FAU’s forthcoming Schmidt athletic and academic complex, Kiffin spun a yarn about a secret conversation he had with FAU president Dr. John Kelly, who came to FAU from Clemson, that included a reference to FAU athletic director Pat Chun, formerly of Ohio St.
Kiffin, then the Alabama offensive coordinator, said Kelly, pulled him aside after the interview for the FAU job and told him:
“He said, I know Clemson’s really, really good, especially on offense, but here’s the problem. The playoffs are already set. Alabama’s going to go beat Washington. I know (Clemson’s) going to beat Ohio St., because our athletic director is from there so they’re no good. But he said to me, he said, here’s the deal. After you guys beat Washington and we crush Ohio St. – Ohio St. didn’t score, I don’t think that day, did they? – he said here’s the thing: In order for me to give you this job you cannot coach the national championship game. I have to make sure that Clemson wins the game. So that was very difficult.”
Kelly and Chun hired Kiffin to be the program’s fifth head coach on Dec. 13. Both men appeared to be hearing that version of events for the first time. Like the rest of the FAU faithful who heard the story, Kelly and Chun enjoyed a good laugh.
Kiffin remained with the Crimson Tide through their victory over Washington in the semifinals, but two days later Alabama coach Nick Saban announced that Kiffin would not coach top-seeded Alabama in the final game.
The Kiffin-less Crimson Tide fell to the Tigers 35-31.
“That shows you how much I believe in this place,” Kiffin said of FAU. “So, my president’s happy. Nick Saban is not.”
The new Schmidt complex provides Kiffin with even more reason for joy. Expected to be completed by the summer of 2018, it will be the new home for the football offices while housing a new, significantly larger weight room, an academic center, a health and wellness center, a hall of fame and two outdoor practice fields. The second phase of the project will also include an indoor practice facility.
On Friday, shortly before meeting with recruits on campus for FAU’s second big recruiting weekend, Kiffin seemed most pleased about the new weight room.
He told that crowd that the biggest shot opposing coaching fire at FAU when trying to persuade potential Owls not to come to Boca Raton regards the current weight room, which isn’t up to Division I standards.
“The only thing that anyone else has to say negative about Florida Atlantic is one thing: the facilities and the weight room. I said, well that’s easy. It’s already getting fixed,” Kiffin said. “To know that is awesome, because you can’t change a lot of things about the school. You can’t change location. You can’t change stadium size. You can’t change a lot of things, but you can change that.”
Kiffin also took a moment to pay homage to program founder Howard Schnellenberger, who was seated in the crowd.
“Coach Schnellenberger, I apologize,” Kiffin said. “You had to go sign all those players without this new facility, so it’s now easy for me.”
Kiffin spoke for about five minutes, but he didn’t deliver the line of the night. In that respect, the new FAU coach was upstaged by one of his players.
FAU asked two athletes, softball pitcher Kylee Hanson and football running back Buddy Howell, to tell the gathering what the new facility meant to them.
Noting how beautiful he believes the FAU campus to be, Howell then compared the new facility to the female gender.
“It’s just like adding makeup to a woman,” Howell started, his train of through momentarily broken by uproarious laughter from the crowd. “Every woman is beautiful without makeup, but you know, when you throw that little touch on, it’s something that we fellows, everybody is blessed to see.”
Dick and Barbara Smith spoke briefly, with Barbara inviting former FAU football players Brandin Bryant, Lucky Whitehead and Trevon Coley – all of whom are currently under NFL contracts – to the stage. As the trio exited the stage, linebacker Randell Johnson, now with the N.Y. Jets, arrived and joined them on the side of the stage for more photos.
Chun said that FAU has already raised about $30 million of the $56 million that could be required for the Schmidt complex. Phase I of the project is expected to cost $35-$40 million. Phase II, which is primarily the indoor practice facility, should cost between $10 and $16 million, Chun said.
A $16 million gift from the Schmidt Family Foundation launched the project.
When complete the complex will take up much of the open lawn to the west of the stadium. It will also include renovations to the home team’s locker room, adding more space to allow it to be used as the Owls’ full time locker room for practices and games.