For a coach that had a winning record at Tennessee and a winning record at USC, Lane Kiffin sure does get criticized heavily for his career as a head coach. The Kiffin years in Knoxville and Los Angeles are never viewed in a positive light for various reasons, but (in college, at least) he was never a coach you truly could call a loser. Kiffin had a 7-6 season at Tennessee before bolting the SEC for a chance to return to USC. Kiffin had winning seasons with the Trojans in 2010, 2011, 2012 and in 2013, when he was unceremoniously left at the airport by the team following a road loss at Arizona State.

Kiffin may have had a winning record, but it was not difficult to scratch through the surface to see Kiffin was not fully equipped to handle the pressures and responsibilities of being a head coach at a program like Tennessee or USC when the bar is affixed to high standards. Kiffin may not have panned out to those high levels at either program or in the NFL, but there has always been a part of Kiffin that suggested there was potential to be a successful head coach under the right circumstances. Great coaches can thrive almost anywhere, but sometimes the scenery surrounding a head coach leads to the ability to maximize results.

Three seasons spent getting back to his offensive coordinator roots under the leadership of Nick Saban was the perfect opportunity for Kiffin to redeem himself, learn a few tricks of the trade, and prepare himself for a possible return to head coaching. Though it wasn’t always easy.

That opportunity was presented in the coaching carousel between the 2016 and 2017 seasons, although the job Kiffin landed was one nobody seemed to be discussing at the time. It turns out, however, it may have been the absolute best situation for Kiffin to get his mojo back as a head coach.

Florida Atlantic had just parted with Charlie Partridge following three successive 3-9 seasons as a member of Conference USA. The program was stuck in the bottom of the college football world. In need of finding a coach capable of building a foundation for sustained success in future years, FAU opted for a bit of a splashy hire by convincing Kiffin to come be their guy. The hire by FAU was quickly viewed as a great hire for the Owls. Kiffin’s name had been attached to a number of coaching rumors around the country, but none of them had as low a profile as FAU. Maybe other programs backed off on pursuing Kiffin with other candidates in the running, but FAU was fortunate to be able to hire Kiffin.

At the time, it seemed Kiffin was desperate to get back to being a head coach and away from Saban as quickly as possible. If Kiffin had stuck around for another year, he could have had more options to choose from if programs saw the change in Kiffin they hoped to see. Kiffin was no longer the unprepared and overwhelmed head coach of Tennessee or USC. Instead, he was redeveloping his coaching skills on a national championship contender at a program where assistants have gone on to land a number of good jobs, like Kirby Smart at Georgia.