SEC Championship Football

Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, right, talks with quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) during practice for the Southeastern Conference Championship NCAA college football game where they will play Florida, Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Butch Dill

The top target in LSU’s search for an offensive coordinator remains available, but Alabama's Lane Kiffin continues to flirt with lower-level head coaching jobs. 

Kiffin was in talks with Florida Atlantic officials about their head coaching vacancy, according to FootballScoop.com and confirmed by The Associated Press on Friday. The initial report surfaced about eight hours after Houston passed on Kiffin for its head coaching job, instead promoting Baton Rouge native Major Applewhite, the Cougars' offensive coordinator.

Kiffin, the brash 41-year-old offensive guru, is LSU’s No. 1 target to replace interim offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. The program feels strongly that Kiffin will leave Alabama and join the Tigers if he does not get a head coaching job this offseason.

There appeared to be just one more hurdle for Orgeron to clear to land Kiffin: South Florida, the Tampa-based American Athletic Conference school. But in a surprising move, Kiffin also apparently is interested in Florida Atlantic, a Conference USA school that only started playing football in 2001 and paid its previous coach $600,000 per year.

It’s unclear when FAU officials will make a decision, and it’s also not clear whether Kiffin, whatever his decision, will remain on Alabama’s staff through the College Football Playoff. Orgeron last week suggested that an offensive coordinator may not be hired until after LSU’s bowl game, Dec. 31 against Louisville in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida. The playoff begins that same day with the semifinals. The championship game is Jan. 9.

Kiffin was seen by many as the favorite to land the Houston job, and the Cougars confirmed Thursday that he interviewed twice. USA Today even reported Thursday morning that UH was prepared to hire Kiffin. The program instead picked Applewhite from a group of finalists that also included former LSU coach Les Miles.

Kiffin is a hot commodity for LSU, which is looking to transform its pro-style offense under Miles into a spread scheme. Kiffin and Orgeron are close friends, and they speak often. Orgeron worked for Kiffin at Tennessee and Southern California. Kiffin is in the final year of a contract with Alabama that the school did not extend earlier this fall.

LSU’s backup plan remains a bit hazy, but The Advocate reported Thursday that former Washington and Southern Cal coach Steve Sarkisian, currently an Alabama offensive analyst, and ex-Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich are candidates if Kiffin doesn’t come to Baton Rouge.

USA Today reported Thursday night that LSU has vetted Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Matt Canada. A source confirmed to The Advocate that Canada has been mentioned as a potential candidate. Canada has been offensive coordinator at five schools since 2010, including Wisconsin, N.C. State, Northern Illinois and Indiana. 

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LSU is prepared to offer Kiffin a significant contract, part of a plan laid out by Orgeron during a meeting with university leaders a day before they named him full-time coach. Orgeron agreed to an economical deal — a five-year deal at $3.5 million per — so the school could spend more money on coordinators.

LSU announced earlier this week that it re-signed first-year defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to a three-year contract that makes him, for now, the highest-paid assistant in college football. Aranda's new contract will pay him $1.8 million per year, with built-in raises to $1.85 million in 2018 and $1.9 million in 2019.

Kiffin was set to make $1.4 million this year at Alabama, his third season with the program. He has helped head coach Nick Saban reshape a pro-style offense to one that's exclusively spread, turning a true freshman quarterback, Jalen Hurts, into SEC offensive player of the year.

Despite starting a different quarterback in each of his three seasons, Kiffin's offenses have averaged more than 420 yards per game each season. The Tide finished second in the SEC this year in total offense; they were fifth last season and third in 2014. 

A former Fresno State quarterback, Kiffin is known among fellow coaches as a play-calling whiz — one reason for his quick ascent through the coaching ranks. He became the youngest head coach in NFL history upon his hiring in 2007 by the Oakland Raiders, and he was the youngest head coach at a "Power Five" program during his one year with Tennessee (2009). 

He went 28-15 as head coach at Tennessee and Southern Cal (2010-13) and finished 5-15 with the Raiders. He was fired four games into his second season with Oakland, and Southern Cal famously fired Kiffin in a private hangar at Los Angeles International Airport five games into his fourth season with the Trojans.

USC had just returned from a 62-41 road loss at Arizona State. During an interview last year, Kiffin called the firing the lowest point in his career "by far."

He churned out much better results as an offensive coordinator. Kiffin's units have shined in his five years as an OC, with four units finishing in the top 26 nationally, including a top-ranked offense in 2005 at Southern Cal. 

His work with quarterbacks might be one of his primary draws for a program that has struggled at that position recently. Hurts, a dual threat, has thrived in the spread attack.

Last year, Jake Coker, more of a pocket passer, led the nation in completion percentage over the final 10 games of 2015 at 72.2 percent. In 2014, Kiffin turned first-year starter Blake Sims into a record breaker, smashing the mark for passing yards (3,487) and total offense (3,837).

At Southern Cal, he helped groom quarterback Matt Barkley, an All-Pac 12 player in 2011 and a fourth-round NFL draft pick in 2013.

Southern Cal's Matt Leinart won the 2004 Heisman Trophy with Kiffin as his passing game coordinator, and John David Booty made All-Pac 12 first team with Kiffin as his offensive coordinator in 2006.

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.