BOCA RATON, Fla. — Lane Kiffin went out and spoke to some colleagues earlier this week.
They weren’t football coaches.
Kiffin’s first training camp as coach at Florida Atlantic opens Thursday, and ordinarily at this time of year he’d be swamped by writing practice scripts and locked in meeting rooms getting ready to tweak his offense. At FAU, for his fourth stint as a head coach, Kiffin is back in more of a CEO capacity — one where he will incorporate some things he learned while watching Nick Saban work at Alabama over the last three years.
So that’s why, when he was asked to go speak to CEOs at a networking event in South Florida this week, Kiffin felt perfectly comfortable in that element. He made jokes, told stories, showed off his smarts — and most of the questions had nothing to do with football.
“That’s the stuff I didn’t have the chance do before,” Kiffin said. “I probably would have said no to doing it in the past. Now I can do those things.”
The well-traveled lightning rod of a coach is taking over an FAU team that went 3-9 in each of the last three seasons. This time a year ago, Kiffin was the offensive coordinator at Alabama and dealing with perennial national-title expectations. He’s now at a school that hasn’t played in a bowl game since 2008 and where empty seats almost always outnumber filled ones on game day, often by a significant margin.
He is starting anew. So are the Owls, officially doing so when practice No. 1 of the fall begins at 9 a.m. Thursday.
“Anytime you bring anyone new in, it’s always a breath of fresh air,” FAU offensive lineman Antonyo Woods said. “Whatever you did in the past really doesn’t matter. You get to rewrite your own history once again.”
Woods was speaking of the Owl players.
The same can also be said for the coach.
Kiffin has grown to be amused by the circus that seems to get stirred up by everything he says and does. His history is well known — hired as coach of the Oakland Raiders as a 31-year-old in early 2007 and fired there after 20 games, then spending one year at Tennessee, three-plus years at Southern California and famously getting fired there at an airport in the middle of the night.
Then came the Alabama stint, and his peculiar removal by the Crimson Tide as offensive coordinator before the national-title game last season — a move that came after he accepted the FAU job. Not being in Tampa for the title game still bothers Kiffin, though he insists there is no looking back.
“We don’t look in the rear-view mirror,” Kiffin said.
He has found the time in this offseason to scoop ice cream for charity, talk to various groups, spend time with the key people on FAU’s campus and this week talk to CEOs. But make no mistake, Kiffin is plenty busy with the football matters as well. His office door is often shut when he’s at work, not out of an anti-social stance but because he’s trying to avoid getting pulled in too many directions.
He’s already a celebrity in his new home, and FAU’s first game of the Kiffin era is still five weeks away.
“If I don’t shut that door, I’m never getting a thing done,” Kiffin said. “Sometimes a head coach, especially your first year, you’re like a firefighter. Every day you’re trying to put out fires. And there’s a lot to do here.”