Lane Kiffin left the SEC, but thank goodness he’s not totally gone.
He’s like a guilty pleasure you can’t give up or a goofy uncle who makes you grin when you’re trying to keep a straight face.
He’s a breath of fresh air and a shake of the head and, dang it, he makes college football fun.
The former Tennessee coach and Alabama offensive coordinator is at it again, eight months after Florida Atlantic hired him to make its football program more than an afterthought in the land of sun and South Beach. This week, Kiffin slid his way into the SEC conversation by working magic on Twitter, where he’s a master among mortals.
First, there was a “recruiting pitch” to former LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Then there was the not-so-subtle virtual confetti drop that followed John Franklin III’s choice to transfer from Auburn to Kiffin’s new playground under South Florida palm trees.
Kiffin can’t quit the SEC. And everyone who enjoys being entertained in this corner of the universe should hope for his speedy return to the conference.
The SEC would be better with Kiffin as a head coach within its ranks. Sadly, nothing is guaranteed. If he makes the Owls more than a blip in Boca Raton, officials from major schools throughout the country will swing elbows for the chance to speak with the offensive guru.
Make no mistake, opportunities will be available for Kiffin if he makes FAU relevant. His unfulfilling stints at Tennessee and USC will be forgotten. His wild ride with the Oakland Raiders will be water under a Brooklyn-sized bridge. He will have options if he wants something more than guiding a nondescript Conference USA program.
It would be amazing to see Kiffin kick up dust in Greg Sankey Land to awaken the SE-Zzzz.
Kiffin’s brilliance this week serves as a reminder of what the SEC lacks: Attractive personalities among its coaches. Remember how the most recent SEC Media Days were a showcase in snooze? Few outside Arkansas’ Bret Bielema and Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason – yes, Derek Mason! – kept all who gathered at the gabfest from kicking back cups of coffee to stay alert.
When you rely on Hugh Freeze for your drama, something is wrong.
The conference has seen better days in this area. Not long ago, Steve Spurrier was Mr. Megaphone. There was Les Miles, who was both quirky and cool.
Now we have Florida coach Jim McElwain awkwardly pausing when responding to a harmless shark question. We have Ed Orgeron serenading everyone on the finer points of LSU’s roster during a needless 15-minute filibuster. It just means more of a bore.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Sure, the SEC’s brand was built on on-field success throughout the past decade. But the conference benefited from marketable ambassadors who were fun. Coaches such as Spurrier and Miles understood their jobs extended beyond barking into headsets on fall Saturdays.
Kiffin recognizes that point well, and he has shown it with his actions this offseason. His promotional video made college football’s most recognizable voices talk about FAU. He scheduled a satellite camp with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. His Twitter game remains on point.
Most outside South Florida have no business caring about Kiffin’s program. The Owls have two bowl appearances and three winning seasons in their 13-year history. They’re a shadow within their local sports scene.
But Kiffin is aware that marketing matters in modern-day college football. He has tried to make FAU cool with a well-crafted persona, one in which each tweet and each public message serves as a step toward making the Owls matter. He knows buzz equals currency. If he can produce wins in a hurry, the momentum will continue to build, and his stock will rise.
The SEC could use that same flavor soon.
Unfortunately, Kiffin’s creativity this week serves as more proof of what the conference no longer has.