As Florida Atlantic readies to play in the Conference USA Championship Game Saturday afternoon in Boca Raton, speculation has intensified that head coach Lane Kiffin will be gone, as soon as the game is over.
This after a report in Mississippi Friday evening that officials at Ole Miss have not only met with, but are on the verge of hiring, Kiffin to fill their vacancy in the SEC West.
Ole Miss nearing deal with Lane Kiffin to become next football coach, though not official yet… https://t.co/2xzH47grM1
— Richard Cross (@RichardCrossSTM) December 6, 2019
There has been much speculation about the 44 year-old Kiffin venturing back into the Southeastern Conference, where he has been a head coach and a prominent assistant twice before. Kiffin was most recently the offensive coordinator (2014-16) at Alabama under Nick Saban, including their national championship season of 2015.
He left Alabama after the 2016 SEC Championship Game to take over at FAU. There he led the Owls to the C-USA Championship his first season with an unbeaten conference regular season and a championship game win at home over North Texas.
After struggling in 2018 and missing a bowl game, the Owls are back as east division champs and hosting UAB at 1:30 p.m. eastern time Saturday.
As we wrote earlier in the week, Kiffin did not have much to say on the Conference USA media call about his future and how he deals with it with his team. Kiffin also appeared in a pre-recorded segment on an FAU radio show Thursday night in Boca Raton, where he basically repeated the same sentiments about not addressing other jobs with his team.
It is believed that Kiffin was also in the running for another SEC West vacancy at the University of Arkansas, however, Arkansas has their eyes on numerous candidates and has been conducting multiple interviews.
KIffin was also the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers in 2009, before abruptly leaving after just one year to take over the head coaching job at USC. He was fired in the middle of his fourth season (2013) there.
Ole Miss fired Matt Luke, a former player and assistant, last week after his third season (4-8) as head coach with the school.
Part of the urgency for Ole Miss to have a coach in place is the early recruiting signing period looming in about 10 days. And, it does remain to be seen, if Kiffin officially agrees.
Coaches and rosters finalized for East-West Shrine Bowl
The NFL and the newly-renamed East-West Shrine Bowl are finalizing not only their player rosters, but their coaching staffs for next Saturday’s game in St Petersburg, FL.
Late this week, the longest running college all-star game, the East West Shrine Bowl, named its head coaches, both of whom have ties to the Tampa Bay Area.
Bucs inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell will coach one of the teams, while former Buccaneers and current Falcons tight end coach, Ben Steele will be in charge of the other.
Caldwell, who came to the Buccaneers in Bruce Arians’ first season has been in the NFL for a total of 11 years and had previously served as the assistant head coach and linebackers coach for the New York Jets under Todd Bowles for 4 seasons.
Steele, who has coached in the NFL for seven seasons reunited with Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter in Atlanta after previously having been his tight end coach in Tampa Bay last year.
Bob Roller, executive director of the East-West Shrine Bowl, said in a statement about the coaching selections,
“We’re very excited to have Mike Caldwell and Ben Steele as head coaches for our East-West Shrine Bowl all-stars,” said Bob Roller, executive director of the East-West Shrine Bowl. “Ben was a coordinator for our 2019 game and both coaches have ties to the Tampa/St. Pete area. They will lead two strong staffs of NFL assistant coaches that will be invaluable to our players as they begin their own journey to the NFL”
Meanwhile, the rosters do have some Florida flair, as several noteworthy names will be on the East team. That’s led by speedy UCF running back Adrian Killins, Gators wide receiver Freddie Swain and USF tight end Mitchell Wilcox. On the East defensive squad, FAU linebacker Rashad Smith, Miami linebacker Shaq quarterman and UCF defensive back Neville Clark are part of the roster.
This will be the 95th playing of the East-West Shrine Bowl and it boasts 71 Pro Football Hall of Famers that have played in their game. And, they also had more than 300 players who were on an NFL roster for Week 1 last year that have played in the East-West Shrine Bowl.
The game also announced that there will be four legendary mentors working with the players in practices later this week in St Pete. Those include: Hall of Fame offensive lineman Will Shields, Super Bowl Champion defensive end Willie McGinest, as well as, long time safety Bobby Taylor and long time wide receiver Amani Toomer.
The game will be played at Tropicana Field, the home of Major League Baseball Tampa Bay Rays and televised nationally on the NFL Network at 3 p.m., Eastern Time next Saturday.
New Year’s Day has prominent teams in Florida Bowls
As the new year begins, traditional college football bowl games will be taking place. And even though there are no Florida teams battling on New Year’s Day, there are two prominent bowl games in the state.
First, two of college football’s “Blue Bloods” play Wednesday afternoon, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Michigan Wolverines will do battle in the VRBO Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
Both programs come off of disappointing end to their regular-season, as they both lost to their rivals. Alabama dropping a wild 48 – 45 game in the Iron Bowl to Auburn and Michigan losing badly 56-27 to Ohio State and their finale at home.
The Tide are without All American caliber quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who suffered a fractured hip late in the year. However, Nick Saban has arguably the best wide receiving corps in all of college football to compensate for Tagovailoa’s absence.
Michigan has perennially under-achieved under coach Jim Harbaugh, but would love nothing better than to score a head-to-head win against Bama in this one.
Meanwhile across I-4 in Tampa, the 25th playing of the Outback Bowl will take place and it’s a first-time matchup between the SEC Auburn Tigers and the big Ten’s Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The Gophers were Darlings of the Big Ten late in the year that they got to 9 – 0 for only the second time in program history before faltering with losses to Iowa and Wisconsin which knock them out of the Big Ten championship game. Their coach P.J. Fleck is the Big Ten coach of the year and has done an amazing job of making Minnesota nationally relevant.
As for the Tigers, we mentioned the victory over Alabama which was particularly sweet for Coach Gus Malzahn, who has been under fire in recent years for not living up to success earlier in the 2010s. Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix, the son of the former Auburn star Patrick Nix, leads a high-powered attack that will look to finish the season on a winning note. The Tigers lost their three biggest games of the year to Florida, LSU, and Georgia, but wins over Alabama and Minnesota will help.
The Gophers have had their most important season since they played in the Rose Bowl in 1962 and would love nothing better than to upset the Tigers in this one.