Lane Kiffin joined the state’s list of brand-name football coaches Tuesday when he was formally introduced as new head honcho at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
Kiffin will remain No. 1-ranked Alabama’s offensive coordinator through the Crimson Tide’s pursuit of another national title in the College Football Playoff, starting with a Peach Bowl semifinal game against No. 4 Washington.
He joked during his press conference Tuesday that he would be back in Tuscaloosa in time for an evening meeting with Coach Nick Saban.
“It was very important to finish what we started there,” he said.
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Then Kiffin will devote his full attention to FAU, which finished 3-9 in each of the past three seasons and hasn’t been to a bowl since 2008. He will be the fifth coach in FAU history, following Howard Schnellenberger, Carl Pelini, Brian Wright and Charlie Partridge.
Kiffin signed a five-year, $4.75 million deal, according to ESPN.
Kiffin, 41, is known as an offensive genius who added creativity to Alabama’s attack and coached three different starting quarterbacks to three SEC titles in his three seasons under Saban.
He also earned a reputation as arrogant and abrasive in his first three head-coaching jobs, starting at the precocious age of 31 when he took charge of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, going 5-15 in 2007 and 2008. He went to Tennessee at age 33 (7-6 in 2009) and a year later went to USC, where he was fired five games into the 2013 season.
“I was so young as a head coach that I was just figuring things out one day at a time instead of having a plan,” Kiffin said Tuesday. “Coach [Pete] Carroll said he’s been fired twice, and then he figured it out, and he stopped trying to be someone else.”
Saban gave Kiffin his blessing, saying he was “absolutely” ready to be a head coach again and that Kiffin had learned from his mistakes.
“I’m very grateful to Coach Saban,” Kiffin said. “My phone was not ringing very much at the time after USC and that was a humbling experience after being let go there. You start calling a lot of people who don’t call you back all of a sudden and you realize things about people.
“As [Saban] says, I get my ass-chewings from time to time. I’ve learned to accept those. It’s been a great run.”
Kiffin is one of three new hires that make Florida a formidable state in terms of coaching resumes. Butch Davis, previously head coach at the University of Miami, Cleveland Browns and North Carolina, was hired last month by FIU. Charlie Strong, fired by Texas, takes over at South Florida in Tampa.
With Mark Richt at Miami, Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, Jim McElwain at Florida and Scott Frost at Central Florida in Orlando, the state’s talented recruits will have plenty of suitors – and Saban may have a harder time luring them to Alabama.
(This report was supplemented with material from the Associated Press.)