Florida Atlantic Univ

FAU football coach gives Owls new nickname:‘Last Strike U’

Lane Kiffin is introduced as the new football coach at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton on Dec. 13.
Lane Kiffin is introduced as the new football coach at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton on Dec. 13. AP

BOCA RATON — Just hiring Lane Kiffin gave Florida Atlantic University's struggling football program more attention than perhaps it ever had.Kiffin's work on the FAU roster (and coaching staff) has kept the Owls in the spotlight.

Since arriving in Boca after spending the past three seasons as Nick Saban's offensive coordinator at Alabama, Kiffin has added some obvious talent to the program by bringing in some players with a bit of baggage.

Nine players who started at bigger programs have transfered to FAU over the past few months including in the past weeks.

The most well known newcomers are former 'stars' of the Netflix docu-drama 'Last Chance U' as well as former highly-recruited players who wore out their welcome at bigger programs.

“We don’t refer to ourselves as ‘Second Chance U',” Kiffin said at the team's media day as reported by the Palm Beach Post on Sunday.

“We refer to ourselves as L.S.U. — Last Strike U.”

Kiffin, who may be on his last coaching strike as well, has brought in once highly-recruited players from East Mississippi Community College like Season 1 quarterback John Franklin III.

The former South Plantation track and football star left FSU for Scooba, Mississippi, before spending last season at Auburn.

After graduating from Auburn earlier this month, Franklin transferred to FAU where he is converting to wide receiver and will be eligible to play immediately.

Former FSU quarterback DeAndre Johnson and former Louisville defensive end Tim Bonner joined the Owls before Season 2 of 'Last Chance U' was released.

Both played at EMCC last season after leaving their previous schools because of off-field issues.

Johnson, who spent camp in a three-way battle for the starting job behind center, was arrested after being caught on video punching a woman at a Tallahassee bar.

Bonner said he left Louisville after his freshman season because he was falsely accused of having a gun in his dorm.

“We've always believed in second chances especially when you're talking about young kids,” Kiffin said following a hot morning practice earlier this month.

“It's not like all these kids are getting second chances because they've made major mistakes. ... Some guys have had some issues. We're glad to give guys second chances and I think most of us have had them in life, especially at a young age. Guys are held to a very high standard when they're Division I football players, higher standards than normal students. I'm glad we can do that.”

Kiffin didn't stop enhancing FAU's roster with the players from television.

Former West Virginia receiver Jovon Durante was a four-star recruit out of Miramar yet ran into undisclosed trouble and transferred in this month as did former Oklahoma quarterback Chris Robison.

Kiffin said he estimated over 34 new players had joined FAU since the end of last season.

“You have to make sure your culture is right and set with your guys so they understand they are coming in to do things our way,” said Kiffin, who was named head coach of the Oakland Raiders by Al Davis at 31 then was fired early in his second season before landing at Tennessee for a year.

“We're trying to win football games. I don't think I would shock anyone by saying we didn't show up here with the greatest roster in the country. Nine wins over three years ... in order to be able to add these guys adds competition and helps our entire program.”

Kiffin's coaching staff isn't without controversy, either.

Offensive coordinator Kendal Briles was fired along with his head coach father Art in the aftermath of a wide-ranging sex scandal at Baylor.

Defensive coordinator Chris Kiffin (Lane's brother) is part of the NCAA investigation into recruiting and other violations at Mississippi.

“I needed a job, I have three kids,” Briles told reporters as he spoke for the first time since joining FAU at media day.

Briles reportedly deflected all Baylor-related questions and he is part of a large lawsuit relating to his time there.

FAU is banking Kiffin — despite his colorful past — is just the man to turn things around.

The Owls haven't had a winning season since Howard Schnellenberger (the program's founding father) coached the team to New Orleans and Motor City bowl wins in 2007 and 2008.

Schnellenberger was forced into retirement after a 1-11 season in 2011 and the Owls have puttered around since.

“You’ve got to give a little to take a little,” Schnellenberger said told Fox Sports after Kiffin was hired in December.

“If you can get a high-profile coach like that, that’s going to invigorate your students and your faculty and staff, and it’s going to help get the fans to come to the stadium, and it’s going to rejuvenate everything.”

Since going 6-6 in 2013 in a season in which coach Carl Pelini resigned after a 2-6 start under suspicion of drug use (he sued the school in 2015), the Owls have gone 3-9 in each of the past three seasons.

The high-profile hire like Kiffin has definitely put the Owls back on the national radar and changed the attitudes of those who have been around the program in the past.

The new-look Owls get their first test next Saturday as they host Navy at 8 p.m. (ESPNU).

“We have a lot of great coaches who have been at the next level,” said senior running back and Coral Gables High product Gregory Howell.

“We want to be NFL players and we practice like that, we have that mindset. The environment is the biggest change I've seen around here. We have new coaches who didn't predetermine who was who. Everyone has to fight for their job. As players, we have had to step up and bring our A-game.”

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