THE FAST LANE
Del Olaleye: Meet college football's next Steve Spurrier
The best thing to happen to college football this season was Lane Kiffin moving to Boca Raton. Fortunately for Kiffin and the rest of the college football world Boca Raton is home to Florida Atlantic University and they just happened to have a job opening. There has been a void in college football created by the departure of Steve Spurrier from the sport. Really this void was created the minute the OBC (Ol’ Ball Coach) left Florida for the Redskins job. Spurrier did a great job rebuilding the South Carolina program when he returned to college football, leading that program to three straight 11-win seasons in his time there but he wasn’t the same swaggering sh-- talker that everyone feared while he was at Florida. He wasn’t a mute at South Carolina but he was at his best when he was leading the Fun and Gun at his alma mater. No coach was safe and even legends of the sport caught it, on Peyton Manning: "I know why Peyton came back for his senior year. He wanted to be a three-time star of the Citrus Bowl."
Spurrier was one of a kind and the sport is worse off without him. That brings me back to Kiffin. He isn’t Spurrier yet. He doesn’t have the cache, the wins or half the respect, but what he does have is no filter, arrogance, a great offensive mind and insight into Alabama, the most dominant program in all of college football. Saban and Kiffin was an odd partnership the moment Kiffin’s hiring by Alabama was announced. How would Saban’s process-oriented approach mesh with Kiffin’s less than stellar past? Pretty, pretty good. Three CFP appearances from 2014-2016 including a National Title in the 2015 season.
The expected rough patches did occur. The most noteworthy being a sideline argument during the National semifinal against the Washington Huskies. Kiffin, already named the FAU head coach, was let go by Saban during title game week for what Saban thought would be in the best interest of the student athletes at both schools. Alabama went on to lose to Clemson and Deshaun Watson in the final seconds of the title game in Steve Sarkisian’s only game as the Bama OC. Kiffin, when asked about his departure in a September 2017 article by the Washington Post said he believed Alabama would be a two-time defending champion if he had been allowed to coach through the title game.
Kiffin kept his eye trained on the Crimson Tide in 2017 while guiding Florida Atlantic to a perfect 8-0 record in conference play and their first Conference USA title. That early success allows for the twitter shots at Saban. Pointing out Saban’s apparent hypocrisy regarding the requirements for making the College Football Playoff are only accepted because Kiffin won eleven games in year one. Without the early validation Kiffin would be subject to jokes about going down to Boca Raton to retire. He’d be quiet. Quiet Kiffin is the worst Kiffin. Out from under the Alabama machine and at a program who would just like to win some damn games he is free to do and say what he wants.
Telling the college football world via the Dan Patrick Show that its newest star Tua Tagovailoa would have transferred from Alabama had he not played in the title game is how he started 2018. According to Kiffin, Tagovailoa thought he should be starting but Saban wouldn’t give him the opportunity. This is why Kiffin’s continued on-field success is so important. I don’t care what he has to say about Butch Davis at FIU or Doc Holliday at Marshall. No one really cared what Steve Spurrier had to say at Duke about the Wake Forest coach either. Once Spurrier was hired by Florida and starting poking at the blue bloods in the SEC his legend grew. The great offenses and all that winning in the '90s certainly didn’t hurt as well.
We should all hope Kiffin does enough winning at FAU to move on to a bigger job. In the Big Ten perhaps? Kiffin vs Harbaugh? Kiffin vs Meyer? Game week would be better than the actual game. He’d be hated by every fanbase in the conference but his own. Hating everybody but your own is what college football is about and the former USC and Tennessee Vols coach would be a perfect foil. The next big school to hire Kiffin will have a target on its back the moment the introductory press conference begins because Coach Lane can’t help himself.
The great Childish Gambino once said, “They don’t listen when you mumble.” Kiffin wants to be heard.
Meet the next Steve Spurrier. Lane Kiffin.