For Lane Kiffin, quick Early Signing Day turnaround was an early dose of reality of the task ahead
I don’t wish Lane Kiffin’s past 10 days on anyone.
To be clear, having millions of dollars and getting to coach in the SEC isn’t a bad deal. Flying private jets and getting treated like a rockstar isn’t the worst thing in the world, I suppose.
But I cannot imagine what it’s been like for Kiffin to try and salvage/grow a recruiting class in a week and a half. Sure, Kiffin wasn’t the only coach dealing with this. Mizzou and Arkansas had bigger hurdles to climb after entering the day outside of the top 50 classes. Shoot, Arkansas only had 6 commitments heading into the Early Signing Day.
Consider that all the more reason that Kiffin should deserve some praise for the class he put together. It could have been far, far worse. And actually, it can still get far, far better (more on that later).
Wednesday was, however, an early dose of reality for Kiffin. A total of 11 recruits dropped their commitments to Ole Miss in the month of December. It’s worth mentioning though that of that group, only 4 decommitted after Kiffin was hired.
That’s a win considering what Kiffin was tasked with dealing with internally.
Let’s not forget that a couple of weeks ago, Ole Miss was reportedly in line for a mass exodus following the firing of Matt Luke. The Clarion-Ledger story detailed that as much as “half the team” was considering transferring. That didn’t happen. Stunning.
In fact, even backup quarterbacks like Matt Corral and Grant Tisdale announced that they were staying in Oxford (Tisdale actually came back out of the transfer portal). Star freshmen John Rhys Plumlee and Jerrion Ealy are still on board, as well. We’ll see if that holds true through fall camp, but for now, that’s a win for Kiffin.
And while Kiffin’s class certainly won’t finish ranked as an all-timer at Ole Miss, he still had victories Wednesday.
Kiffin’s first signee of the day was actually Tobias Braun, who wasn’t committed to Ole Miss. He chose the Rebels over Florida State, which prompted Kiffin to tweet out a link to that story:
3-star OL Tobias Braun commits to Ole Miss over Florida State – Red Cup Rebellion https://t.co/olmWtCqNmw
— Lane Kiffin (@Lane_Kiffin) December 18, 2019
Kiffin might not win all the recruiting battles, but he’s certainly going to make sure he makes his presence on social media. Whether that’s tweeting pictures of himself in Starkville or calling out people assuming he came to the SEC to face off with Nick Saban, Kiffin’s social media behavior that was on display at FAU is certainly not on the back-burner.
But with that comes a reminder of what Kiffin is working against. It’s no longer a bunch of Conference-USA coaches who don’t have a fraction of the following that he does. Kiffin is an SEC target.
Look no further than what we saw Wednesday. Four-star Horn Lake (Miss.) defensive tackle Josaih Hayes dropped his Ole Miss commitment a couple of months ago, but Kiffin scored a late official visit. That, however, wasn’t enough to keep him from signing with Kentucky.
After the signing went official, Kentucky linebackers coach Jon Sumrall, a former Ole Miss assistant, took to Twitter to troll Kiffin:
— Jon Sumrall (@CoachJonSumrall) December 18, 2019
Again, that comes with the territory. Kiffin is a big boy. He can handle his own in that department.
Hayes wasn’t the only blue-chip recruit from the Magnolia State who turned down Ole Miss after a late push.
The father of 4-star Oxford athlete told the Clarion-Ledger that his son, Jeremiah Pegues, scheduled in-home visits with Kiffin and Ole Miss, but that he never heard back from Kiffin. Ultimately, Pegues committed to Auburn over Ole Miss and Alabama. He cited the communication with Gus Malzahn being much more open than it was with Ole Miss.
Call it an unfortunate casualty of Kiffin probably having a billion and a half things on his to-do list. Welcome to life as a new Power 5 coach in the Early Signing Day era.
Kiffin’s class, as of Wednesday afternoon, ranked No. 40 nationally. That was good for No. 11 in the SEC. But among Power 5 programs who made an outside head coaching hire — that excludes Washington — only Florida State ranked ahead of Ole Miss. Not even Jimbo Fisher put together a top 15 class in his abbreviated 1st cycle at Texas A&M.
In other words, no matter how splashy the hire, the Early Signing Day goal for new coaches is simply to tread water.
And in Kiffin’s defense, his class isn’t necessarily over. He’s hoping to land 4-star Deland (Fla.) safety Avantae Williams, who just dropped his Oregon commitment and is scheduled to visit Ole Miss just before the February signing day. The same is true of 4-star defensive tackle McKinnley Jackson, who is the top-rated recruit from Mississippi. And Kiffin can still land a big-time skill player out of South Florida. Four-star tailback Henry Parrish visited Kiffin when he was at FAU and he just got an Ole Miss offer over the weekend.
There’s still work left to be done. That’s the good news for Kiffin, who probably put on some massive miles just trying to fill out this class. But now, Kiffin can exhale. Sort of.
There will be no more kissing of babies or pep rallies to welcome him to Oxford. The real work is underway.
Nobody has to tell Kiffin the task he’s up against in the toughest division in America dealing with what SEC Network anchor Dari Nowkhah called “the toughest start of any team in the league.”
(He’s not wrong. It’s brutal.)
Wednesday was a different kind of tough start for Kiffin, but it was one that he handled well. Life could be worse for Kiffin and the Rebels.
They don’t have half a team to replace, and now, the climb back to relevancy begins.