Kif­fin knows words’ power

Coach knows power of words

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE -

FAU coach has learned from mis­takes.

No. 1 on the list took a while to learn, just like all of them: “Your words are more pow­er­ful than

they’ve ever been.”

Lane Kif­fin didn’t grasp that when he was named the Oak­land Raiders’ head coach a decade ago, or even at the Univer­sity of Ten­nessee after be­ing fired by Oak­land. But all these years and stops later, in his fourth head coach­ing job, at Florida At­lantic Univer­sity, he knows what he didn’t know. What he wishes he al­ways had known.

That’s the work­ing idea, any­way, as Kif­fin opens his next era Fri­day night against Navy. He has his phi­los­o­phy fully de­vel­oped. Nailed, even. It’s why he could make a list of “32 Things No One Teaches You Un­til You’re A Head Coach” a year ago for newly named Hous­ton coach Tom Herman (who is now at Texas).

Things like your words car­ry­ing more power.

“When you’re a head coach, you say things at team meet­ings, to other coaches, to the me­dia and now it’s more pow­er­ful,” Kif­fin said. “Take time to think about what you’re say­ing. I’ve got two play­ers on staff who say things to me I’ve

said that I don’t re­mem­ber say­ing to them. I re­mem­ber jok­ing with my col­lege coach [Jeff Ted­ford], and tell him sto­ries of quar­ter­back din­ners at his house he doesn’t re­mem­ber.

“As the head coach, you words re­ally mat­ter.”

That’s how the list reads. De­tails, like know­ing how you want your me­dia pol­icy. Big things, like run­ning a staff. And oth­ers you or I have never thought of — but Kif­fin has — that tell about the coach FAU is get­ting.

“Al­ways take ad­vice from as­sis­tants but make the fi­nal de­ci­sion.”

“I re­mem­ber when I was younger, there were things we did on spe­cial teams or a par­tic­u­lar de­fense I’d won­der about,” Kif­fin said. “I’d say, ‘Well, I’m run­ning the of­fense. I’m not go­ing to in­ter­ject any­thing, even if I think we should be play­ing this guy.’

“That wasn’t the way to do it. Now I lis­ten to [as­sis­tants]. I don’t nec­es­sar­ily agree with them. If I don’t agree, I say, ‘We’re go­ing to play the guy I want to play.’ ”

Last Strike U. That’s what Kif­fin calls his team. That’s a play on the Net­flix se­ries “Last Chance U” about East Mis­sis­sippi Community Col­lege. He has taken some play­ers from there, as well as trans­fers from ma­jor pro­grams, in a phi­los­o­phy will de­fine his FAU pro­gram, for bet­ter or worse.

“Last Strike U” also could de­scribe him­self. Fail here, at the low rung of FAU, and Kif­fin won’t get a fifth head-coach­ing job. It’s why he em­braces lessons any­one in any new job could ap­pre­ci­ate. “Build re­la­tion­ships around you.”

“When I took my first head job, I couldn’t have told you what a provost was, what a board of trustees was,” Kif­fin said. “I was coach­ing ball. I was just think­ing, ‘How many points will we score?’ Peo­ple would tell me to go meet this per­son two hours away, and I’d think, ‘That’s four hours of film I could watch.’

“As an as­sis­tant, when Nick Sa­ban leaves to go some­where, you don’t know where he’s go­ing or what he’s do­ing. You don’t know he’s go­ing a cou­ple times a year to see Bear Bryant’s son or to have din­ner with a [school of­fi­cial]. You need re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple in the community.”

Kif­fin learned the hard way. He was fired by peo­ple from whom he might have got­ten the ben­e­fit of the doubt if he’d known them bet­ter. And another thing: “Don’t stop learn­ing just be­cause you won.”

“At USC, no one thought we’d win [in 2011], and we went 10-2, beat Ore­gon, fin­ished high in the rank­ings,” he said. “You can’t stop grow­ing, be­cause every­one’s telling you how great you are. I didn’t go any­where that off­sea­son. I said, ‘We’ll just keep run­ning our scheme that’s won.’

“Peo­ple catch up to you. They caught up to us. I got back to learn­ing. I went down and sat with Sa­ban that win­ter and picked his mind. I went other places.”

He was still fired a month into the 2013 season. He was Sa­ban’s of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor in Alabama the past three sea­sons. Now he’s a head coach again. He jokes he’s fi­nally tak­ing his fa­ther’s ad­vice, too. In­stead of tak­ing jobs at win­ning pro­grams, he’s in charge of an FAU pro­gram that’s won nine games in three years.

Ner­vous about the opener?

“Nah, this isn’t my first rodeo,” he said.

He’s lived the list that says so.


“When you’re a head coach, you say things at team meet­ings, to other coaches, to the me­dia and now it’s more pow­er­ful,” Florida At­lantic Univer­sity foot­ball coach Lane Kif­fin says. “Take time to think about what you’re say­ing.”

Dave Hyde

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