Kiffin knows words’ power
Coach knows power of words
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.”