Ole Miss taking the plunge with Lane Kiffin is more reward than risk for the Rebels
Is Kiffin more mature and composed as he gets his third chance coaching a Power Five program?
Lane Kiffin does nothing without a flourish … even if it means doing nothing. Maybe that is the most surprising part of him taking the Ole Miss job.
Kiffin restrained himself in the moment Friday night as the internet broke with news he was breaking back into the big time.
No provocative tweets. No reaction. No interviews. No comments. Nothing.
That will change in a hurry. Ole Miss just became the latest empire for the Boy King. Soon, Kiffin will be back on the recruiting trail while simultaneously getting back in his rivals' faces.
Kiffin was a presence on social media before most coaches even signed up for accounts. He also recruited elite five-star studs and helped win national championships at USC and Alabama.
This is a coach who was wildly successful on the field as Nick Saban's offensive coordinator but often annoying to his boss off of it. Even after leaving the Crimson Tide, Kiffin complained of Saban's 7:30 a.m. meetings.
This is a coach who won 10 games at a USC mired in NCAA probation. This is a coach who also won 11 on the opposite coast at a lonely Group of Five outpost named FAU in his first season; the Owls won nine games combined in the three prior campaigns.
This is a man/child who was left behind by Alabama team busses when he was late. This is also a football mind perceived to be on the cutting edge of offensive techniques.
Kiffin has spent a career making us guess what he would do next. The son of legendary coach Monte Kiffin sometimes acted like he was born on third base. Still, Ole Miss isn't the first program to think it hit a home run.
At age 31, Kiffin was hired to coach the NFL's Oakland Raiders. At 34, he took over the Trojans dynasty from Pete Carroll. Four seasons later, he was fired on a tarmac after a USC loss to Arizona State.
Three years ago, Kiffin and Saban reached what was termed a mutual agreement for the offensive coordinator to leave the week of the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Kiffin remains an absolutely engaging personality. Raiders' owner Al Davis once claimed Kiffin "conned me and conned all you people."
Now, at 44, the man/child who has so enjoyed tweaking opponents while throwing over the top of their secondaries is nearing middle age.
Has he mellowed? Ole Miss fans hope not. They want the cocky Lane who promised the world at Tennessee, not the flighty Lane who left Knoxville after one 7-6 season for USC.
They want the promise of Kiffin who seemed to rehab his career during a three-year stay at FAU where he won two Conference USA titles.
Bottom line, Ole Miss is a perfect match for Kiffin. Because of Hugh Freeze.
It wouldn't be the first program to not ask how but instead ask how many.
Freeze proved you could assemble a top-10 recruiting class in Oxford, win 10 games, beat Alabama (twice) and also be at the helm of program socked with NCAA penalties. None of that approach necessarily makes Ole Miss an outlier.
To be fair, Kiffin has never had his name attached to major penalties. Though his brother Chris Kiffin, as Ole Miss defensive line coach under Freeze, was involved in the violations committed by the Rebels. (Lane later hired him as defensive coordinator at FAU.)
There were a bunch of minor violations that Lane Kiffin did receive as he tried to gain a foothold at Tennessee, including famously accusing Urban Meyer of cheating when the then-Florida coach did not, but nothing to raise too much of a stink about.
That didn't stop one Power Five administrator from predicting the length of Kiffin's stay at Ole Miss: "three years." That's another Kiffin signature, not staying long at one place. Sometimes his choice, other times not.
Three years? Ole Miss would sign up for that in a heartbeat. Side note: watch season ticket sales soar.
In a way, it's curious Kiffin would choose the SEC West for his return. He will go against his old boss Saban in his comeback. More than that, he'll be going against SEC West opponents Alabama, LSU and Auburn -- for starters -- each season.
Then again, it makes perfect sense. In the SEC, he's back atop college football's food chain. No doubt there are some upset fans at Arkansas, where Kiffin's name had also surfaced during this silly season.
If there was a bidding war for Kiffin, credit super agent Jimmy Sexton once again for expertly manipulating the bidders. This latest Kiffin resurrection proves Sexton's client -- once-disgraced -- has plenty of juice left.
Leave it to Kiffin to hijack some of Championship Saturday. His postgame press conference after the Conference USA Championship Game had to be one of the most anticipated events of the day. And it had nothing to do with football on the field.
They/we wanted to hear more promising, preening, prodding of his opponents.
Eventually, the football stuff will matter. Kiffin brings a 60-34 college career record to Ole Miss. More than that, he brings an acceptable (to some) swashbuckling attitude to the job.
Is he difficult to calculate? Of course, sometimes from moment to moment.
That's part of his appeal.
For better or worse, Ole Miss has willingly taken on the task of being the latest to try to figure out Kiffin.
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