Ole Miss football: 5 ways the Rebels will measure success in 2020
Ole Miss athletics director Keith Carter explained it succinctly when he introduced Lane Kiffin. He wanted a coach who could “absolutely take over that room and galvanize people.”
Notably, as he rehabbed his coaching image, Kiffin delivered at Florida Atlantic and won more in his 3 seasons in Boca Raton than the Owls did in the previous 7 combined. Perhaps most important for the leadership in Oxford is Kiffin did it without any hint of major scandal.
While Ole Miss doesn’t have a big-city media glare, Kiffin likely won’t have to answer any more questions about his age. Of course, that’s what he did when the Oakland Raiders made him a head coach at 31, or when he was hired at Tennessee at 32, or at Southern Cal at 34. He’s 44, and much more experienced with how to live in the public eye and deal with constant scrutiny that comes from the likes of SEC Media Days and facing the sports most high-profile coaches.
Here are 5 ways the Rebels will measure success in 2020:
1. Can Kiffin’s on-field success outweigh off-the-field headlines?
Kiffin is media savvy, and, like his buddy in Starkville, can push the envelope when it comes to tweets and public relations. But there comes a time to put that aside, and how Kiffin manages that will go a long way toward determining his success in Oxford. Small doses are fine, and it will likely come after big victories, or big recruiting news, but making sure it’s constructive will be a daily reminder in the limelight of the SEC. It’s a clear contrast from his buttoned-up predecessor in Matt Luke. For example, will Kiffin be able to manage his emotions against Alabama, not only from his time there, but most important, his exit during the College Football Playoff in 2016? Will holding a grudge affect his play calling?
Fans have already bought in, at least judging by the thousands who poured in for his first press conference. But finding that balance is key for him.
2. Kiffin shows maturity
Like Ed Orgeron getting a shot at LSU, Kiffin is in a similar, if perhaps more complicated position in his third college crack at a Power 5 job. Even on top of the Oakland Raiders and Florida Atlantic Owls. In what ways has he grown as a manager, or CEO, from Tennessee and Southern Cal. An example of this CEO-type maturity came when Kiffin hired Matt Lindsey as the program’s first general manager.
Lindsey will oversee the day-to-day operations of the Ole Miss football office, which includes administrative duties with player personnel, recruiting, staffing, performance analytics, academic support and other areas. Finding someone to oversee those roles is one example of growth.
The offensive-minded Kiffin has a chance to be precisely the problem Hugh Freeze was for the likes of Nick Saban and Orgeron before his scandal. The potential is there, but this is a chance to show how he’s changed as a big-time college head coach in his volatile career.
At his introductory press conference, he appeared to understand that part of the job.
“You don’t win two conference championships because you hire a head coach,” Kiffin said. “You have to have a lot of things in place and a lot of people helping. That’s what happened here.”
3. Can they solve the quarterback quandary?
Any coach would love to have the kind of talent Kiffin is faced with managing. John Rhys Plumlee, in limited action of 9 games, led the SEC in rushing yards per game last season with 113.6 yards per game. Former offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez appeared to find the balance between Plumlee and fellow QB Matt Corral, who appeared in 10 games. The quandary is from the offense that produced 614 yards against LSU but sputtered to just 384 yards against Mississippi State, including 139 rushing yards.
4. Trending toward a winning record
Coming off a 4-8 season, Ole Miss hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since it went 10-3 in 2015 and won the Sugar Bowl. That was the 4th of 4 consecutive bowl appearances. In related news, attendance at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium have dropped every year since 2015. Kiffin went 26-13 in his 3 seasons at FAU and overall is 61-34 in 8 seasons as a college head coach at Tennessee, Southern Cal and FAU. There are plenty of people who wonder what Kiffin could have done at Tennessee if he had stayed longer, mostly because the Vols were on the right track. This is his chance.
5. Reclaiming the Egg Bowl
The Rebels have lost the past 2 Egg Bowls and 3 of the past 4. Two of those losses were by 30+ points. With the personalities of both new coaches drawing national attention, this is another test of managing off-the-field behavior and press conferences with on-field production. All the one-liners and catchphrases will fall flat if the wins don’t follow.
— Lane Kiffin (@Lane_Kiffin) January 9, 2020