From Tuscaloosa to Boca Raton: This is what desperation looks like for Lane Kiffin

This is what desperation looks like for Lane Kiffin.

A head coaching veteran at the tender age of 41, one who has tutored four Heisman Trophy winners and has three national championship rings is starting over in an up-and-coming city that was once known only as a wealthy retirement community.

Don't get me wrong, Florida Atlantic. Boca Raton is cool. It's getting younger, rebranding. But a sun-splashed South Florida town is the last place you would expect to find Lane Kiffin ... at least coaching football.

Unless, of course, you know Lane Kiffin.

Too many school presidents and athletic directors apparently think they do.

In a vacuum, an Alabama offensive coordinator fresh off three straight SEC titles having brought Nick Saban's offense to record-setting levels doesn't cash in his head coaching chips in Boca.

He vacations there.

In reality, though, FAU is something close to a professional last chance for Kiffin. Florida Atlantic is near the bottom rung of FBS. Great stadium, great climate, great campus but the only guarantee is obvious.

If FAU doesn't win big with Kiffin, everyone will certainly enjoy a heck of a sideshow.

Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News probably went as far as anyone could on Twitter, saying, "staying put [at Alabama] for 2017 wasn't going to happen..."

Wait, what? Not only was Kiffin desperate about getting a head coaching job, he wasn't welcome back at Alabama?

Let's just say there were few tears shed in Saban's office when the news came down. One South Florida source said Kiffin was a "non-starter" for the job eventually taken by Charlie Strong.

Kiffin interviewed at Houston but lost out to the Cougars' offensive coordinator, Major Applewhite, who will be a rookie head coach. There was reported interest at Maryland last year. Kiffin didn't get that either.

Instead, the man who helped Carson Palmer, Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and Derrick Henry win Heismans is an Owl. The coach who was handed the key to the Oakland Raiders at age 32 is starting over before he reaches middle age.

Tennessee's one-and-done coach takes over a program that is 26 years younger than him. FAU started playing football under Howard Schnellenberger in 2001.

Read all that backwards and it makes total sense. You start at a place like FAU and end up in the NFL. Kiffin is starting over at FAU because desperation has set in.

Right now, in this market, it was the only place that would take him. The big question is why? How did Kiffin's career come to a place where Western Kentucky -- currently still without a coach -- wasn't even interested?

Kiffin still projects as a 41-year-old frat boy. Presidents and athletic directors don't want Otter from Animal House running their football program.

If nothing else, they have to be wary of that fleeting romance with Tennessee. That could be them when the next best thing comes along.

Lots of us thought much was revealed in September when Saban was asked about a sideline confrontation with Kiffin. "There were no arguments. Those are called ass chewings," he said.

The SEC on CBS could have filled a 60 Minutes segment with those sideline, uh, confrontations. They were good television. They also showed just how frustrated Saban could get with his offensive coordinator.

Alabama fans got frustrated with Kiffin at times, too. In the SEC Championship Game, Bama rushed for 1 yard in the first quarter without a tailback touching the ball.

He could have had his name legally changed to Lane "Run The Damn Ball" Kiffin in T-Town.

But those were football frustrations. Overall, Kiffin was brilliant on the field. In his fifth year, quarterback Blake Sims went from afterthought to single-season total offense leader. Jacob Coker went from Jameis Winston's backup to national champion.

Freshman Jalen Hurts was the face of an offensive transformation at Alabama. Kiffin certainly has something to do with Saban embracing the spread, the no huddle and up tempo.

Hurts entered the season opener for the third series. He ended the regular season as the first-team All-SEC quarterback.

That's part of what makes Kiffin so confounding. He's brilliant. He's smart. He's innovative. He's also flighty. Some might say, immature.

He's also gone. And no one who follows the Tide is batting an eye that consultant Steve Sarkisian is likely to slide over and take Kiffin's position.

There really is no downside for FAU. It gets a celebrity coach on the Celebrity Coast. No doubt players who never would have considered Florida Atlantic will take the Kiffin Plunge.

But for the coach, the stakes are much higher. Lane Kiffin has to begin to rehabilitate his image there.

If Kiffin was ever going to be a head coach again --at any major program -- it probably had to start at a place like FAU.

Either that or take the LSU coordinator's job. And no matter how much of a raise Kiffin was going to get from Ed Orgeron, that was still a lateral move.

Coaching purgatory would have worn purple and gold. There's nothing wrong with making $2 million a year calling plays for Coach O. But it's not calling plays for Nick Saban.

And it's not coaching a Power Five program or an NFL team, two things Kiffin accomplished before he turned 40.

It's fair to say there was general indignance in the coaching community over that fact. Coaches would have given their left guard to be in the NFL at age 32.

Kiffin was run out the door by a 79-year-old Al Davis with the opposite of a letter or recommendation. Even then, Kiffin was still a wunderkind, son of a coaching legend (Monte Kiffin) with SoCal looks and an unlimited ceiling.

Now we're just left to wonder about the wunderkind.

Staying on as an offensive coordinator would have continued to brand him as an offensive coordinator for the rest of his career.

It's obvious there were few, if any, options left for Kiffin if he wanted to be a head coach again anytime soon.

This year's coaching carousel was slowing to a halt.

It was only a question of where his ego would allow him to land. Turns out it's a South Florida retirement town with football ambitions beyond Conference USA.

FAU knows Lane is quirky and charismatic. It knows Lane can play call and recruit, too.

In a way, it makes no sense that Alabama's offensive coordinator is rebooting his career in Boca Raton.

In reality, it also makes total sense. Otter is in town.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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