You can bet that Florida Atlantic University President John Kelly will be on Lane Kiffin’s Christmas card list this year and for years to come.
In late 2016, Kelly signed Kiffin to coach the Owls’ football team. As I wrote at the time, it was a deal with the devil, which Kelly basically acknowledged.
Despite his considerable coaching talents, Kiffin was damaged goods. He had been fired by the then-Oakland Raiders of the National Football League. After one season at the University of Tennessee, he bolted—with no notice—for the University of Southern California.
Kiffin got fired from that job but then landed as offensive coordinator at the University of Alabama. Rather than be grateful for making $1.4 million at the best program in the country, Kiffin complained about his salary and payments to his ex-wife. After he took the FAU job, Alabama didn’t let him stay to coach in the national championship game.
Though Kelly offered less money—$950,000 per year —that was big money for FAU. The job also offered Kiffin a path back to being a head coach. Kiffin’s presence offered Kelly the chance to raise FAU’s profile as Kelly was tying more of his marketing to athletics.
On the field, Kelly got what he wanted from Kiffin. In 2017 and 2019—Kiffin’s first and final seasons—the Owls won a record 11 games. In 2019, they were ranked 25th, the first time the Owns had cracked the national rankings.
And Kiffin? He left to become head coach at the University of Mississippi—making nearly $4 million a year. After Mississippi won 10 games this year for the first time, Kiffin got a contract extension through 2025 and a raise to roughly $7.5 million. That money will go a long way in Oxford, Miss. What had been “The Lane Train” at FAU became Kiffin’s gravy train.
So the FAU deal worked for Kiffin. What about FAU?
Last week, FAU opened the Schmidt Family Center for Academic and Athletic Excellence. It’s next to the football stadium. As the name implies, the facility will feature a support system for FAU athletes and classrooms for students studying sports management.
FAU announced the center seven years ago with a $16 million gift—the largest in school history—from the Schmidt Family Foundation. One can argue that Kiffin’s presence helped to catalyze fundraising for the project that Kelly called a defining one for FAU. The school received a $2.5 million gift this year to name the coaching position.
Hiring Kiffin likely also made FAU more appealing to his successor, Willie Taggart. He needed a home, having been fired by Florida State University. Still, Taggart was a reasonably big name.
Taggart’s results have been less impressive. FAU went 5-4 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and 5-7 this year, with a losing record in Conference USA. But FAU moves to the higher-ranked American Athletic Conference in 2022, giving the school a higher profile.
At this point, Kiffin seems to have been the bigger winner. If Taggart can come close to matching Kiffin’s record, however, things could shift. Kelly got some of what he wanted out of the deal and may get more. Kiffin got pretty much everything he wanted.
Boca Raton Bowl teams announced
Speaking of football, Western Kentucky and Appalachian State will play in this year’s Boca Raton Bowl, sponsored by RoofClaim.com.
It will be the second appearance for Western Kentucky and the first for Appalachian State, which apparently prefers the name App State. It’s in Boone, N.C.
This year’s version, which ESPN Events produces, will be different from the first seven. It will take place during the day, at 11 a.m. on Dec. 18. That’s a Saturday, when several other bowl games also are scheduled.
Western Kentucky will stay at the Boca Raton Marriott at Town Center and the Hilltoppers’ events will take place in the city. The team will make a community outreach appearance on Dec. 16 at Boca Raton Regional Hospital. A pep rally will take place on Dec. 17 at the Mizner Park Amphitheater.
For tickets, call 561-362-3650 or visit https://roofclaimbocaratonbowl.com/ticket-info
Delray disparity study?
For almost a year, Delray Beach staffers had worked to finalize the contract for a disparity study. It would examine whether city contracting disfavors minority- and women-owned businesses.
And then the work was gone.
At the Oct. 26 city commission meeting, Mayor Shelly Petrolia and commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson voted against the staff recommendation to hire Atlanta-based Miller3 to conduct the study, which would have cost about $300,000. Rather than seek to negotiate with one of the other bidders, Petrolia, Casale and Johnson asked the staff to start over. Ryan Boylston had wanted to approve the contract. Adam Frankel was absent.
Petrolia said she worried that City Manager Terrence Moore had not been on the job for the entire process. Moore began work on Aug. 2. Casale and Johnson expressed similar concerns.
Moore, however, said he could have worked with Miller3. “I’m flexible.” Moore acknowledged that, while he had had questions about the survey, staff members had addressed them. Indeed, responding to Moore had delayed consideration of the contract. “Many of those questions,” Moore said, “have been resolved.”
Yet Petrolia persisted. Hiring Miller3 would be “a disadvantage to our city manager.” Casale mentioned a problem with Miller3’s contract in Philadelphia,” citing “something I read online.”
During their campaigns, Petrolia and Casale cited the need for such a study. After voting not to approve the study, Petrolia said, “I support it 100 percent.” But she had spoken with “some experts” and came away worried that Miller3’s study would not withstand an inevitable lawsuit, even though the staff report noted that the company has conducted 135 such studies.
In a letter to the city, Miller3 CEO Dave Miller called the decision “arbitrary and capricious,” words that often foretell a lawsuit. By their comments, Miller said, Petrolia and Casale indicated that they had “acted outside of the procurement process,” which staff was supposed to run.
Coincidentally or not, Miller3 was to have used a company called Door 2 Door Strategies to seek community comment. The company’s founder and CEO is Delray Beach resident Rob Long. He angered Petrolia, Casale and Johnson by criticizing the city—correctly, as it turned out—for the levels of cancer-causing chemicals in its water. They spoke of removing Long from the planning and zoning board. Long stayed.
Miller noted that the commission had not asked for a reset of any other project in progress when Moore began work. He asked the commission to reconsider. As with the termination of Old School Square’s lease, Petrolia, Casale and Johnson declined to reconsider.
This is the sort of thing that can lead to lawsuits and/or ethics complaints. Boylston said Monday that he hasn’t heard about a new search. He plans to “ask the question” at today’s commission meeting.
Delray downtown to expand?
Before the Delray Beach City Commission at today’s meeting are three proposals that would expand the downtown area by another 40 acres.
In planning terms, the ordinances would create a fifth sub-district, known as South Pairs, as part of the Central Business District. The boundaries, starting on the north and going clockwise, would be Southwest Fourth Street, Southeast Seventh Avenue, Southeast Tenth Street and Southeast Seventh Avenue.
As the staff report notes, the purpose of the changes would be to “encourage investment” in the Osceola Park neighborhood beyond single-family homes. Planners would like to see three-story townhouses and more density in some areas.
This effort began three years ago. The city got help from the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council. Former City Commissioner Jim Chard, who lives within the proposed boundaries, told me that he “absolutely” supports the ordinances. We will see if all this work goes to waste like that on the disparity study.