BOCA RATON – During his first few months on the job new FAU athletic director Brian White replaced his basketball coach and cheered as his baseball coach nearly led the Owls to an NCAA super regional.
Now White’s ready for his inaugural ticket on the Lane Train.
“Lane is awesome to work with,” said White, referring to head football coach Lane Kiffin. “He’s been great.”
White watched from a far last season – well, Missouri actually – as Kiffin led FAU to its first Conference USA championship in his initial year on the job. But as FAU pounded opponents, Kiffin’s relationship with then-AD Pat Chun deteriorated to near nonexistence.
Chun ultimately left FAU for the same position at Washington St., and the Owls hired White a couple weeks later.
Less than half a year into his new position, White doesn’t intend to ask Kiffin to change what some outsiders consider to be the controversial way that Kiffin runs his football program.
“I’m not one to go and try to micromanage a coach or try to say, I’m your boss so here’s how you’re going to run your program,” White said. “I don’t know of any AD in the country that can be the expert in football and the expert in golf and the expert in tennis and the expert in marketing and the expert in compliance. To me it’s more about making sure that they have what they need to be successful.”
By embracing Kiffin’s leadership style, White is also giving a bear hug to Kiffin’s often entertaining but sometimes misunderstood Twitter account.
“I think he’s got kind of a good way about him,” White said of Kiffin’s Twitter personality. “He’s brought a lot of exposure to FAU. He’s got a huge fan base on Twitter. He’s got a little bit of Steve Spurrier – go back and forth – and it’s funny. I think he’s hilarious and I think people for the most part know that he’s kind of kidding and don’t take things so seriously when it’s Twitter.”
Kiffin managed to be entertaining while also winning football games in 2017. He invited everyone from celebrities to athletes to the reigning Heisman Trophy winner to “Come to #ThefaU.” Then he showed them why.
FAU’s Boca Raton Bowl victory that concluded the 2017 season sent the Owls into 2018 riding a 10-game winning streak – second longest in the nation.
There is hope among the athletic department and its supporters that with the momentum and attention FAU earned last season that the Owls will begin the season ranked in the Top 25. That wasn’t the case in the Coaches Poll, released Thursday, which ranked FAU No. 33. (The Owls were the only Conference USA team to receive votes.) FAU will have a chance for a better ranking when the initial AP writers poll is released in a couple of weeks.
Shortly after being hired, White announced that he shared the belief first stated by his new boss, FAU president Dr. John Kelly, that the Owls could take up residence in the Top 25 for years to come.
Like new leaders at FAU are apt to do, White pointed south down I-95 to what he called Miami’s “meteoric” rise in the 1980s as proof that a South Florida school can come seemingly out of nowhere to become a national football power.
“I think we can compete in football and be that team that’s knocking on the door of the Top 25 every single year, and going to bowl games every year,” White said.
That vision could take another step toward reality on Friday when FAU opens its 2018 fall camp in preparation for the Sept. 1 season opener at Oklahoma, No. 5 in the coaches poll.
Expectations for FAU have never been higher entering a fall camp. Some pundits nationally have already tabbed the Owls as the sexy pick to represent the Group of 5 in the New Year’s 6 bowls – if not the downright favorite.
White isn’t yet willing to make that prediction, but he’s hopeful that the Lane Train adds an additional stop at the end of this season.
“We’ll find out against Oklahoma,” White said. “I think this team is crazy talented with a great coaching staff. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that we can’t be.”