The Florida Atlantic University football program has had little success since its inaugural season in 2001. FAU hasn’t played in a bowl game since 2008, and the last time they had a .500 record was in 2013. The Owls finished 3–9 in each of their last three seasons, which prompted the school to fire former head coach Charlie Partridge.
In an attempt to revitalize the program, FAU made a blockbuster hire when they brought in Lane Kiffin to be the Owls' next coach. Last year, Kiffin was the offensive coordinator at Alabama. He previously was head coach at Tennessee and USC, and for the Oakland Raiders in the NFL. Now he will attempt to make the jump from an SEC powerhouse to a mid-major program.
“The leadership here, starting with the president,” Kiffin said when asked about what attracted him to FAU. “So when I was in the interview process, the president was in there and he was very dedicated to building a championship program. He came from Clemson so he'd seen when they started really winning there the impact that it had on the whole university, and so he saw that and he wanted to do something like that here.”
Another draw of FAU is the state's penchant for producing top prospects. Kiffin is known as an aggressive recruiter since his days as an assistant coach. The 24 players Kiffin brought in on his first national signing day with FAU ranked best in the conference according to at least one recruiting service. He reportedly even offered scholarships to kids not even yet in high school.
There will be adjustments, however. For three seasons, Kiffin coached in the SEC, which is widely regarded as the best conference in college football. The SEC and Conference USA are dramatically different in terms of the style of play. Kiffin points to the quality of the SEC's defenses, while Conference USA, by contrast, features explosive offenses.
It should be no surprise, then, that the way Kiffin is trying to turn around FAU is by developing a quality quarterback. He brought in former Florida State quarterback De’Andre Johnson, who was dismissed from FSU in 2016 after an incident at a bar which lead to a misdemeanor battery charge. After leaving FSU, Johnson transferred to East Mississippi Community College, where he threw for 2,646 yards and 26 touchdowns. In terms of returning players, Kiffin is excited about running backs Gregory Howell Jr. and Devin Singletary. Last year, Howell rushed for 828 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Singletary rushed for 1,021 yards and 12 touchdowns.
In 2016, FAU finished last in average attendance for any team in the Conference USA. Generating interest in a team that’s gone 9-27 in the last three seasons is difficult, but Kiffin thinks he can get students and southern Florida to care about FAU.
“Hopefully winning, and a style of play that is exciting, creates a fun environment,” says Kiffin.
FAU hasn’t been very successful since the program started, but things are looking up for the Owls. Kiffin seems to have the right players and coaches to make this FAU team a contender in Conference USA. Kiffin might lead FAU to its first conference championship since 2007.
(Photo credit: Wilfredo Lee/AP)