Second Chance U: Lane Kiffin explains his risky roster churn at Florida Atlantic
Kiffin's Owls have added myriad troubled players since he took over in Boca Raton
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The celebrated can't-miss quarterback was caught on tape punching a woman.
The defensive lineman was accused of having a gun.
A soon-to-arrive transfer is going on his fourth school.
Lane Kiffin is apologizing for none of it at Florida Atlantic. In the space of 24 hours this week, the 42-year-old going on his fourth head coaching job gave us a philosophical hint as to how he'll do business at FAU.
It has and will continue to be an open casting call for the program that has become the FBS version of "Last Chance U." And not just because four subjects of the Netflix series have arrived on campus from East Mississippi Community College. Their antics from the hit streaming documentary series have made them celebrities before they hit the field.
"It's kind of addicting," said Kiffin, who recently finished watching the series' second season. "It's kind of unusual because you're watching a show that's not real, [but] it's real football."
They hope to be playing that soon at FAU where Kiffin has basically told the administration he has both good reason and leverage to bring in or retain a group of players with questionable backgrounds.
"We need to fix our roster," the coach said.
If that means the roster is equal parts football players and rap sheets, judge for yourself …
Quarterback De'Andre Johnson gets a shot after delivering (a heinous) one. Johnson was booted out of Florida State in 2015 after allegedly punching a woman in an FSU bar. Florida's Mr. Football (a moniker given to the best high school player in the state) quickly turned into a subject of a disturbing surveillance tape.
"When something happens … then you lose the privilege of being normal," Kiffin said. "You don't get to go to all the parties everyone does. You don't get to act the way a normal student does. You've lost that privilege."
Wide receiver Jonathan Franklin III has changed schools the way other people change shirts. As a graduate transfer from Auburn, he announced this as his fourth stop on Tuesday following stays at Florida State and EMCC. The former quarterback is also on his second position.
And that's just the guys on the rebound from East Mississippi.
Kiffin also brought in former Pittsburgh defensive tackle Jeremiah Taleni, once considered one of the Panthers' top linemen but kicked off the team in April. Former Florida State linebacker Kain Daub arrived from ASA College in Brooklyn, New York, where his work ethic was questioned.
Wideout Kamrin Solomon has returned to the team after being suspended for undisclosed reasons.
There may be more roster fixing.
"We've always believed in second chances," Kiffin said. "… I think most of us have had them in life, especially at a young age. These guys are held to a really high standard. …
"I just came from a program where we did that."
Whoa. Did Lane just weave Alabama's best roster in the world in with FAU's version of "The Process?"
"Coach [Nick Saban] … already has the culture set," Kiffin said. "They're either in or they're out."
Here, they take a number. The FAU roster churn has been so violent that one staffer said it's hard to quantify just how many new faces there are in the facility. At last check, Kiffin said there are 34 new players on the roster, including walk-ons.
"I've never been in a training camp where someone's got cut before," said receiver DeAndre McNeal. "That's a little bit different."
Kiffin said he's not cutting players. Some are transferring out. McNeal transferred in after he was booted from Texas early during the Charlie Strong administration. McNeal then landed at Fullerton College, a California JUCO where he snagged more passes than snacks.
"Honestly, for about five months I ate apples and water every single day," McNeal said. "On Sundays, I would treat myself to all-you-can-eat pancakes at Denny's. Shout out to them.
"It definitely helped me humble myself. It made me take football more seriously. JUCO helped me out, changed my life a lot."
Kiffin is counting on a collective humbleness. McNeal turned down USC, UCLA and other Pac-12 schools to come here. Lane's brother, Chris, the defensive coordinator, has been summoned to be part of Ole Miss' infractions hearing before the NCAA next month.
The NCAA has said some fairly bad things about Chris' time with the Rebels under Hugh Freeze.
Back to football: Part of Lane's leverage comes from FAU winning only nine combined games the last three seasons. There have been only three seasons above .500 in the program's 13-year FBS history.
Kiffin draws a parallel to the lineup shuffling to his time at USC. He was the Trojans coach who inherited a 30-scholarship reduction and a two-year bowl ban.
Dealing with what he called "basically a death penalty," Kiffin had to hustle up walk-ons and JUCOs, the same way he's doing here.
"It was kind of like turn over every rock -- major college graduates, junior colleges," he said. "We've got to put all our energy in that. Not just increase the talent but create competition.
"That's the point of creating an NFL model where it's, 'OK, let's look at everything -- free agency, draft, trades, everything."
The FAU administration hired him for at least a round speed dating. If in two or three years Kiffin turns this place around and rebounds to a Power Five, he and his employers will part friends from a transparent May-December romance.
"I hate him," McNeal deadpanned before breaking into a huge smile. "I love playing for Coach, he's a great dude. He likes to get work done, but while he's getting the work done, he likes to have fun with it."
Lane's father Monte, the 77-year-old hall of fame-bound Owl analyst, was spotted the other day dancing in the halls of the football offices with the graduate assistants.
"Practicing his James Brown moves," Lane said.
Strength coach Wilson Love was Kiffin's first hire. The demonstrative No. 2 to Scott Cochran at Alabama has been known to spontaneously break into dance during practice.
"We Owls," he woofed Wednesday morning as players stretched. "We up in your ass."
Last week, the now-famous Brittany Wagner showed up unannounced at practice. Wagner was the EMCC academic advisor who was at least portrayed on Netflix to be the backbone of coach Buddy Stephens' program.
FAU's East Mississippi players gathered around her for hugs. Last Chance, meet Second Chance.
"She brings energy to the field," Johnson said.
If he can stay out of trouble, Johnson passes for that Power Five talent Lane is looking for dropped into this land of football Lilliputians.
The four-star prospect from Jacksonville screwed up at FSU.
Coming out of East Mississippi, there was a paucity of offers most probably because of that documented violence against a woman.
"I don't say anything to it," Johnson said. "It's not in my place. My job is to contribute, allow guys like myself to come to this university."
Between the firing of Charlie Partridge and the hiring of Kiffin, Johnson committed to a program without a head coach. Former FAU offensive coordinator Travis Trickett -- now at Georgia State -- landed him.
Trickett's brother Clint -- the fourth former EMCC member – is now the Owls' tight ends coach. That's a familiarity.
Now the reality: If the season started today, FAU veteran Daniel Parr, a redshirt sophomore, might be the starting quarterback. Johnson's biggest career accomplishment to date might be not being cut -- as the roster churns.
"Something good," Kiffin said scanning the practice field for the second chances he has created, "came out of something bad."
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