BOCA RATON – Spring practice afforded new FAU coach Lane Kiffin his first true opportunity to assess his coaching staff as well as his newly inherited players.
Among those coaches, Kiffin believes he has at least one rising star.
Kiffin didn’t have much of a working relationship with Eric Mathies before hiring him to be the Owls’ new defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. Having watched him work with players, Kiffin lists Mathies’ teaching ability among his most pleasant surprises of the spring.
“Having made him the recruiting coordinator, I’ve been really pleased how his players developed, how he works with the guys,” Kiffin said. “Really, I think he will be a future head coach some day.”
Mathies may need all of the coaching tricks he’s learned since entering the profession in 1999 to build the Owls’ front four into a formidable unit.
Trey Hendrickson, FAU’s career sack leader, is now a New Orleans Saint. Several defensive linemen, including Ray Ellis and Hunter Snyder, missed spring drills while recovering from injuries.
Throughout the spring Kiffin consistently pointed to the trenches – the offensive and defensive lines – as positions where the Owls need to improve to be competitive in 2017. To aid that effort, Kiffin signed junior college defensive ends Ernest Bagner and Tim Bonner – both of whom are already enrolled at FAU.
Kiffin is getting Mathies’ services at a relative bargain. Still being receiving payment from his contract at former stop USF, Mathies is only making $70,000 this season from FAU’s budget. That makes Mathies the second-lowest paid coach by FAU this season, ahead of only Clint Trickett, the Owls tight ends coach. Coaching for the first time above the junior college level, Trickett’s contract calls for $60,000 per year for two seasons, which is actually a $10,000 per year increase over what previous tight ends coach Charlie Weis Jr. – one of Kiffin’s first hires at FAU – was scheduled to make. Wies Jr. left FAU prior to the start of spring football to join the Atlanta Falcons.
While FAU is getting Mathies for a bargain price this season, the same won’t be true for next season. All new non-coordinator assistant coaches signed two-year contracts. In 2018, Mathies’ salary jumps to $210,000 – the same amount he earned under his previous contract at USF. With Mathies’ South Florida contract having expired by then, FAU will be on the hook for all that money.
Should all contracts remain the same – returning offensive line coach Garin Justice is still employed under the two-year contract he signed prior to the final Charlie Partridge season and would presumably need either an extension or a new contract to remain at FAU following the 2017 season – Mathis would become the highest-paid non-coordinator at FAU in 2018, making nearly $100,000 more than the next highest-paid assistant, Corey Batoon, who earns $120,000 per season.
Batoon and Justice ($100,000) will be the only position coaches who make six figures this season.
As for the coordinators, the intrigue in their contracts lies in the length of their terms. With a contract that spans three years, defensive coordinator Chris Kiffin, Lane’s brother who came to FAU after serving as the Ole Miss defensive line coach for the past five seasons, has the longest term of any FAU assist.
Offensive coordinator Kendal Briles has the most lucrative single year contract of any assistant – $350,000 compared to $300,000 for Chris Kiffin – but his contract expires after only one season. Briles, who also holds the moniker of assistant head coach, came to FAU after serving as the offensive coordinator at Baylor – a program under investigation amid a player sexual abuse scandal alleged to have occurred during his tenure as a coach.
Kiffin liked what he saw from his staff this spring.
“To see the way they worked, how competitive they are at practice – there’s so much energy,” Kiffin said. “You’ve seen the guys bouncing around. Our coaches are in the middle of the huddles and celebrating touchdowns and everything. It’s a really special staff. I’m just very excited it came together the way it did.”
In a deal approved by FAU president Dr. John Kelly, the Owls gave Kiffin a pool of $1.7 million from which he could hire his nine on-field assistants. He spent $1.26 million on those coaches for this season. Kiffin used the leftover money to hire a slew of offensive analysts, defensive analysts and player development assistants – giving him the largest paid staff in terms of body count of any coach in FAU program history.
One of those analysts is his father, famed NFL assistant Monte Kiffin, who FAU records show is making $40,000 per year for his services and is not under contract.
“A lot of credit to president Kelly for giving us more resources than they had before to go out there and hire these guys,” Kiffin said.