Dave George: Lane Kiffin remains just a phone call away from new job

Jan 03, 2018
FAU coach Lane Kiffin congratulates running back Devin Singletary and quarterback Jason Driskel after an Owls’ touchdown in the Boca Raton Bowl. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Just when you think it’s safe to assume that Lane Kiffin will be around to coach the Florida Atlantic Owls in 2018, another job comes open and everybody starts thinking about where and when the Lane Train’s next stop might be.

This time it’s Arizona on the hunt after firing Rich Rodriguez on Tuesday night over a sexual harassment allegation.

Can’t predict when something like that will happen. In a normal world, FAU fans should have been able to enjoy one final sigh of relief on Dec. 11, the day that SMU hired Sonny Dykes and the last head coaching seat in college football’s annual game of musical chairs was filled.

I mean, the early signing period for recruits started Dec. 20. Every program needed to be in good shape by then with a certain vision of who would be leading it, and that included FAU with Kiffin.

Football takes all kinds of crazy bounces, however, and the calendar is never completely shut.

One of the forgotten angles on Miami’s national championship season of 2001 is how Butch Davis left the Hurricanes to coach the Cleveland Browns in late January and former athletic director Paul Dee was forced to announce a quick replacement hire, settling on in-house candidate Larry Coker, just four days before the fax machines started humming on Feb. 7’s National Signing Day.

And so we return to the topic of Kiffin. Always a hot topic, even when, and this must be emphasized, there is nothing to connect him to the new Arizona opening but the usual round of media speculation on who might make a good candidate.

Even then it’s a view of many alternative realities. The Daily Wildcat, Arizona’s student newspaper, published an early list of five potential hires and Kiffin’s name was on it, probably because he’s a headliner and would bring excitement.

SB Nation’s Arizona football website listed 10 candidate names and Kiffin made the cut again.

Sports Illustrated, on the other hand, ran a list of 12 candidates that Arizona might want and never mentioned Kiffin at all. That report, which leads with recently fired SEC head coaches Butch Jones and Kevin Sumlin, is the one that carries the most weight because it is based on actual reporting, with contacts inside the program.

The notion is that Arizona just dumped a coach for a very disturbing reason and will be looking now for the most calming of influences to settle things down. That kind of made sense until another report came out Wednesday afternoon that the Wildcats were in communication with Les Miles, a winner at LSU but with a reputation as something of an oddball.

Get the picture? There’s just no telling what will happen in any given coach search, with Kiffin as the greatest example.

He was hired to coach the Oakland Raiders at 31 and then fired over the telephone early in his second season when Al Davis blew a gasket. Within a month Kiffin caught on at Tennessee, but that connection lasted only one season before he left to coach Southern Cal. Later came a 3 a.m. firing at Los Angeles International Airport as the Trojans returned home from a 62-41 firing at Arizona State.

A highly successful run as Nick Saban’s playcaller at Alabama followed that and, finally, though not really finally, FAU offered him another head coaching position, a decision that initially received a grade of “F” by Sports Illustrated but was rewarded with an 11-3 season and the program’s first Conference USA championship. We’re leaving out a lot here because this isn’t a 30-for-30 documentary or something, but, oh man, it could be.

There’s so much drama in this thing that the 10-year contract extension FAU signed with Kiffin a few weeks back is a subplot at best. It’s an attempt to put a lasso around lightning. No chance.

Should Arizona be interested in this guy, and vice versa? It’s definitely worth a look to me, and from both sides.

The Wildcats are in the Pac-12, a major conference, and they’re in USC’s neighborhood, too. Kiffin could torture USC by making Arizona a monster, while at FAU, he’s still scrambling to get a spot in the Top 25 after ripping off 10 wins in a row by an average of nearly 25 points.

Also, Arizona has a sensational dual-threat quarterback named Khalil Tate, who rushed for 327 yards, an FBS record for quarterbacks, against Colorado. Last, Arizona fans are accustomed to a lot of scoring after ranking fifth in the nation this season at 41.3 points per game. Kiffin’s balanced and creative attack at FAU averaged 40.6 and both programs rolled up close to 500 yards per game in total offense.

Hey, this whole thing could be wrapped up by the time this column makes print, with Arizona hiring an in-house candidate and Kiffin never involved in the least, but one fact remains.

FAU will never have a moment, this offseason or any other, when Kiffin is all safe and certain as the Owls coach. If there’s good news in this, it’s that when people are talking about Kiffin, they’re talking about the Owls, too.