The day after the Oklahoma Sooners handed his team a season-opening 63-14 loss earlier this month, Florida Atlantic University head coach Lane Kiffin took to Twitter to put things in perspective. He had just attended church—and he was being hounded on social media for his team’s abysmal performance.
“How was church this morning?” one person asked.
Kiffin, though, wasn’t interested in a Twitter spat.
“Church was great. Way more important, sir,” Kiffin wrote. “Have a great day; hopefully you will figure it out.”
For sports fans like me who have followed Kiffin’s career, it was easy to view his response as tongue-in-cheek. Kiffin became head coach of the Oakland Raiders, then the University of Tennessee, and then Southern Cal—all before the age of 40. Along, the way, he gained a reputation as a brash, young coach who would push the envelope to win. His off-the-field reputation wasn’t much better.
But there is more to Lane Kiffin nowadays. Ever since he was pulled off the team bus in 2013 and fired by Southern Cal—a firing that took place in front of his players following a loss—Kiffin has undergone a spiritual transformation. He’s now a Christian, and he views his position as a platform to influence others for better, beginning with his own players.
He wrote about his profession of faith in Christ in a first-person column this summer for AthletesForGod.com.
“I don’t like to focus too much on my past, because then it stops becoming your past and starts to become your present,” he wrote. “However, my story is a special exception, because it shows people that it’s never too late to rediscover God, and that we can overcome anything in our past. I like to tell people these days, if God can forgive you for whatever you have done, then why can’t you! I’m proof.”
His firing by Southern Cal, he wrote, was the turning point in his life.
“I’ll be the first one to say it: I had too much success, fame and money in life too soon,” he wrote. “You see it all the time… in Hollywood, you see the musicians and actors that are given too much in life too soon, and they’re not fully prepared to handle that, and their ego destroyed them.”
The firing, he said, “was the beginning of God humbling me to the man I am today.”
“I was not using the platform He put me on at all in His way,” Kiffin wrote. “As my pastor once said, God wasn’t punishing me; He was just giving me a wakeup call.
Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life—and its opening message of “It’s not about you”—helped transform his view of life.
“That’s all Rick Warren needed to say,” Kiffin wrote. “It immediately sunk in, and I’ve been telling my players and coworkers that line ever since. I had never heard that before, but that is the purpose of life.”
Kiffin left Southern Cal humbled, but Alabama coach Nick Saban threw him a life preserver by offering him the position of offensive coordinator.
“I had no job and no head coaching offers, and my relationship with God was a fraction of what it used to be. God gave me a second chance to redeem both,” he wrote, referencing his time under Saban.
Kiffin flourished for three years in his new role with the Crimson Tide—so much so that FAU offered him its head coaching position following the 2016 season. He accepted that role and guided the Owls to a conference championship and bowl win in 2017.
The “new-and-improved” Lane Kiffin still enjoys making jokes on Twitter, and he still ribs fans from time to time, too. But alongside those Tweets are quotes from pastors and Bible verses. He’s humble now—and wiser.
“Everything we own really belongs to God; we are just renting it, and when we die those things are going to become somebody else’s possessions,” he wrote in his first-person column. “And none of that stuff matters. When people ask me what makes me happy now, the answer is totally different than before. I’m happiest when I’m helping people.”
There was a time I enjoyed cheering against Lane Kiffin. This year, though, I’m cheering for him.