Kiffin carries five-year contract and high hopes into FAU coach job

Some suspect FAU's new coach will bolt at his first chance.
Lane Kiffin, who has a five-year contract with FAU, will continue to be Alabama's defensive coordinator through the playoffs. Getty Images
Lane Kiffin, who has a five-year contract with FAU, will continue to be Alabama's defensive coordinator through the playoffs.Getty Images
Published December 14 2016

BOCA RATON — At 12:25 p.m. Tuesday, nearly 150 minutes after he was officially announced as Florida Atlantic's head coach, Lane Kiffin's brown dress shoes met FAU Stadium's natural grass. It was Kiffin's second time on his new home field, the grounds on which he'll try to resurrect the Owls' struggling program.

The first came Monday evening, after he flew in from Tuscaloosa, Ala., to meet with university officials and players. The second came while he was wielding a chrome red helmet in one hand and the hopes of a university on his shoulders.

Kiffin, the offensive coordinator at Alabama for the past three seasons, posed for pictures on the field with the helmet and a football, using the stadium's seats to frame a picture unfamiliar to Owls fans: a big-time coach to lead FAU. Kiffin also previously led the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee and USC, with controversy following him.

"Today, we continue our pursuit of excellence, our unbridled ambition by hiring the top person in the country, the genius in coaching: Lane Kiffin," FAU president John Kelly said.

Kiffin signed a five-year, $4.75 million contract Tuesday that will pay $950,000 annually. Among other bonuses, he can earn $7,500 for winning conference coach of the year, $25,000 for a team GPA of 3.0 or higher and $300,000 for winning the national championship.

This season at Alabama, Kiffin made $1.4 million. He will remain with the Crimson Tide through its playoff run and said he will focus on calling recruits and hiring a staff at FAU during that period.

Some have speculated Kiffin will use the FAU job as a stepping stone, jumping perhaps to a Power Five program when an opening calls him name in the next couple years. He spent just one season at Tennessee in 2009 before going to USC.

"You can have one year because you fall into a great quarterback, or the ball bounces the right way or you get some good calls, but can you do it over and over and over again?" Kiffin said. "That's what success is, and that's what we're getting ready to do here."

If Kiffin leaves FAU for another job, the Owls will receive compensation. FAU is owed $2.5 million if Kiffin leaves after one year, then $2 million after the second and $1.5 million, $1 million and $500,000 for the final three years of his contract.

FAU will also pay allow Kiffin a pool of $1.7 million to hire nine assistants and a strength and conditioning coach. The overall investment to Kiffin and his incoming staff will be about $1 million more than the Owls paid previous coach Charlie Partridge and his staff in 2016.

Partridge was fired Nov. 27 after his third straight 3-9 season.

"We really don't care about what happened before," Kiffin said. "I talked to the players (Monday) night about that, that doesn't matter and we're not going to focus on it."

Kiffin's future was one of the hottest topics during this year's coaching carousel. His three-year contract at Alabama was set to expire, and he was linked to Houston's head coaching vacancy along with LSU's offensive coordinator position.

Kiffin said Tuesday he would have remained at Alabama if he did not take the job at FAU.

"I know that we're in a great run," he said. "Coach (Nick) Saban and I have had a great relationship, regardless of what people may think. As he says, I get my (butt) chewing from time to time. I've learned to accept those."

Kiffin was reportedly a finalist for the Houston job before the Cougars opted to promote Major Applewhite from within. After the announcement, Houston regent Tilman Fertitta said Kiffin was "not a safe hire."

Kiffin said he did not take offense to that and that Fertitta sent Kiffin a message explaining what he meant.

"It was a great message about what he felt and why what happened happened having nothing to do with me, having nothing to do with the interview process," Kiffin said. "We had a great interview with him, enjoyed spending time with him."

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