Has Lane changed? We'll see, but it was worth it for Ole Miss to find out who the new Lane Kiffin is
The Lane Train is rolling back to the SEC.
What a fitting sentence to usher in a new decade of college football. Lane Kiffin is going to Ole Miss, and he has an annual date with Nick Saban.
You know, just like he had 10 years ago at Tennessee. The only difference? Well, Kiffin isn’t going to Ole Miss for a year, and he’s not an early-30s coach with one eye staring at Urban Meyer’s dominance at Florida with the other eye on his dream job at USC. At least that’s what we think.
Ten years after one of the wildest roller coasters in SEC history, Kiffin is returning to the league where his status as “college football enigma” was etched in stone.
And yes, it was worth it for Ole Miss to find out if Kiffin can make a name for his coaching and not his antics.
To be clear, no puff piece of Kiffin enjoying life in Boca Raton is proof that he’ll be that person in Oxford. That’s not taking a shot at any of those stories or the people who wrote them. Kiffin spent the past 3 years talking about being at peace living in South Florida. He didn’t need to talk about his desire to rise back up the coaching ranks because if we’re being honest, we were going to do all of that for him.
Kiffin did tell ESPN going into his 3rd season at FAU that it would be difficult to turn down the allure of returning to the SEC. Who could blame Kiffin? He had unfinished business after the way it ended at Tennessee, and probably some more with the way things ended at Alabama.
Speaking of that, can we take a moment and appreciate that we now have a window in time — who knows how long it’ll be — in which we get annual Saban vs. Kiffin matchups? Can we get Kiffin trolling Saban on Twitter before and after every game? Is that a little greedy?
Let’s just hope that this is the type of content we all get from Kiffin:
Sounds like Lane Kiffin’s son “Knox” is excited to be heading to Oxford.
— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) December 7, 2019
No matter what type of attitude Kiffin takes with him to Oxford, the fact that one of the best offensive minds in college football has a Power 5 head coaching job again is entertaining in itself. The guy who revolutionized the Alabama offense is now going to try to take Ole Miss to the next level.
The question is what Kiffin will do with an offense that was electric and young, but different. The Clarion-Ledger report that came out following the meeting that Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter had with Ole Miss players was telling. If Kiffin’s presence can squash the notion that as much as “half the team” could transfer, all the better. One would think that guys like John Rhys Plumlee and Jerrion Ealy would be fired up to see an offensive-minded guy like Kiffin coming to Oxford.
There’s no guarantee of that. There’s also no guarantee that Kiffin walks into Ole Miss and flips the division on its head. Alabama, Auburn and LSU are still on a level that Ole Miss won’t reach next year, or maybe even the year after that. But if Kiffin retains the majority of the SEC’s top rushing attack, which was the offense that had the least amount of returning production of any FBS team in America, who knows? Those “Ole Miss is better than their record shows” could follow a 7-win season instead of a 4-win season.
One thing we know? He’s is going to be able to recruit. And if Mike Norvell leaves Memphis for Florida State, well that’s another solid recruiting market that Kiffin can corner. Don’t judge Kiffin’s recruiting upside based on this 2-week window he has before the Early Signing Period. Wait and see what his first full cycle looks like for an Ole Miss program that’s not dealing with sanctions.
This is exactly why Ole Miss fans were hoping that Carter would replace Luke. They wanted to see what kind of candidate the job could attract if it hit the open market for the first time since 2011. Just for a little perspective, the last time the Ole Miss job truly came open was when Kiffin was in Year 2 at USC (Saban is the only active SEC coach who is still at his current job).
Oh, and Ed Orgeron was Kiffin’s defensive line coach. In case you forgot.
Picture going back in time to 2009 and telling an Ole Miss fan, “Welcome to 2020. Kiffin is your new head coach, and his new biggest challenge is building up an offense that can keep up with Orgeron’s at LSU.”
All the irony.
Look no further than Orgeron for showing why second chances can happen. Or look at Mack Brown. Or look at Saban himself.
This is a second chance for Kiffin. Or a third chance. Whatever it is, it’s a new opportunity. It’s one that Kiffin earned by showing he can keep his head down and build up a program instead of just take over one and look like he’s in over his head.
We don’t know if Kiffin will be in over his head in Oxford. Ask an average Ole Miss fan that question and they’ll probably say “well, he won’t be in over his head any worse than Matt Luke was.” Again, those are their hypothetical words. Not mine.
Had Carter not brought in a household name like Kiffin, the pressure on Luke’s successor would have been great internally and externally. That’s not the case. While there’s pressure on Kiffin to dominate this leg of his redemption tour, he will have plenty of support to make this work.
Carter did the best he could to clean up the mess that he made a short week ago. Go figure that Kiffin, of all people, is the person associated with cleaning up a mess instead of creating it.
All aboard the Lane Train (again). We’re all in for one heck of a ride.