Florida Schools Coming Up

College football coverage is cyclical and long time observers see a lot of the same stories repeated.

Every so often the major publications will turn their eyes on the Other schools in a state dominated by traditional powers and say things like Why Not North Texas? The Florida version includes FAU and FIU, two squads Mean Green fans are familiar with going back to the Sun Belt days and continuing that association in CUSA now.

Through the years both schools have made some interesting runs, pulled off an impressive win or two, and produced NFL talent (FIU: TY Hilton, FAU: Alfred Morris). Now they have made some interesting hires. While people know the godfather of Miami football is Howard Shnellenberger, fewer know he was the founder of Florida Atlantic football and coached there 11 seasons. He essentially birthed the program and guided it from nothing to a 2007 Sun Belt title and a couple of bowl wins. Now FAU has hired ertwhile wunderkind Lane Kiffin, whose head coaching stops have all ended in controversy – the Raiders where he was fired for cause by the late Al Davis, one year at Tennessee where he bolted for USC, where he was later fired at the airport. At each stop he has shown good things:

  • At Tennessee he improved the team by two wins and improved the offense.
  • At USC he overcame sanctions and produced winning seasons before blowing it later with questionable stuff.
  • At Alabama he was reigned in by Nick Saban and his Process, and has produced an innovative offense that perfectly complements the all-consuming defense.

Having coached under both Pete Carroll and Nick Saban, he has training under two of the nation’s best college coaches in recent memory. If he can bring the Process and control his more extreme tendencies while keeping his offensive explosiveness, FAU should be good.

Kiffin has also recruiting skills, and that is interesting considering the hype around F_U and NT is really people acknowledging the schools’ proximity to talent. Kiffin recruited talented players to USC, Tennessee, and Alabama and those three schools are very much not Florida Atlantic. So we cannot directly translate that success, can we?  That fact acknowledged, we must also consider that one or two talented players at FAU changes the balance of a CUSA game more drastically than in the SEC or Pac-12. He does not need the top-ranked class in the nation, just probably in the CUSA East division.

Meanwhile, Butch Davis is now coaching at Florida International. He is another former UM coaching great who has recruiting skills and an ability to produce very talented teams that eventually won a lot of games. In one of his initial press interviews he touted this fact himself. “We laid the foundation [for Miami’s titles in ’89, ’91, and 2001].” He was right. Unfortunately his programs have a tendency to court sanctions.

His specialty is defense and defenses are largely a function of athletic talent. If Butch Davis can recruit the type of guys that can wreak havoc up front — he used to coach defensive line for Jimmy Johnson’s Miami and Dallas Cowboy teams — FIU could make some noise in CUSA East.

These hires are interesting for a number of reasons: they are not bad coaches, can recruit, and have national recognition. If they do what they can — Kiffin produce offense and recruits, and Davis produce defense and recruits — they can get their programs to some bowl wins, which is good for the conference overall. I expect this to happen fairly quickly. FAU was a darkhorse this season, and FIU has been able to produce a solid season every couple of years, especially under current Alabama OL coach Mario Cristobal 1

The best programs in this conference are only slightly better than the worst. MTSU has had stability and talent and yet nearly imploded upon losing the QB Stockstill. Southern Miss had a full turnaround and yet was shaky with expectations. Marshall disappeared. Of course our own little program managed 5 wins (including a win over Southern Miss) a year after going 1-11. A turnaround in this league is not outside the realm of possibility.

Having good teams in the East does not directly effect NT, and if Kiffin/Davis manage to get a little shine for the conference with some publicity, that can only be good for our guys in green. This league needs more wins over the rest of the nation outside of what MTSU (Mizzou), Southern Miss (Kentucky), and NT (Army) did. Here’s hoping F_U can add to that number.

Kiffin has Wisconsin, and Navy next year. Davis has UCF (Scott Frost!), Tulane and Indiana.

We are associated with these schools, and so we want them to be quality programs and not laughing stocks. MGN declares these hires as good things.


  1.  Cristobal coached under Butch Davis as a graduate assistant and served under Davis coaching tree guys like Greg Schiano and Randy Shannon).