First and 10: Brian Kelly is going to dance his way to a national championship at LSU. Soon
1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …
You know you’ve shaken the establishment when the original and all-time panderer of all things social media calls you out.
Jokingly, of course.
Or maybe it wasn’t.
After a video of new LSU coach Brian Kelly awkwardly dancing with a recruit found its way to social media – the second such video in the last month — Lane Kiffin stepped in to remind everyone where the circus lives.
“Did you lose a bet or something??” Kiffin tweeted at Kelly. “This can’t be real. Photoshopped? Account hacked?? I mean ….”
Think about this. Kiffin, whose utter coaching persona is zigging when everyone else is zagging – and not always in a good way, and often on social media – was trolling the new coach at LSU for doing just that.
That was Kiffin in the past couple of weeks, standing in front of a Ferrari with recruits, holding up deuces, and posting on social media for all to see. A Ferrari, people. In college.
The insinuation was unavoidable: Come to Ole Miss – or in Kiffin’s social media parlance, “The ‘Sip” – and roll in the (I’m assuming NIL) money.
But because Kelly dances (poorly, very poorly) to Garth Brooks with 5-star QB recruit Walker Howard, and does the Right Foot Creep (even more poorly, if that’s possible) with TE recruit Danny Lewis Jr., the interwebs are on fire.
Kiffin is cool and cutting edge because he’s 46. Kelly is fake and forcing it because he’s 60.
And if that’s all it was, it wouldn’t even register in Kiffin’s – or any other coach’s – world. But it’s much more than that.
Brian Kelly is a ball coach. An elite ball coach.
If he figures out how to recruit at an elite level in the SEC – and he’s already well on his way (more on that later) – he’s going to win a national title at LSU. This isn’t rocket science, everyone.
Kelly’s 2-month run of the corny and the contrived – complete with the fake southern accent when introduced at an LSU basketball game – isn’t his painful entry into big time SEC football, as many would like you to believe. It’s his plan.
It’s assimilation by any means necessary.
Because after he’s already sold his track record as the winningest coach in Notre Dame history to recruits and their families; after he has explained in detail his plan of developing players and their path to the NFL (the No. 1 question for 95% of recruits), he’ll do the Griddy – or whatever it takes – to further sell himself on social media and create a buzz that expands his reach.
What you and I think is odd or embarrassing, is different in the eyes of 18-22-year-olds.
That’s why Kiffin does what he does. Or why countless other coaches have embraced the sewer of social media like a long-lost love.
The risk outweighs the reward.
It’s no different from game-planning for an opponent, or trying to reach a wayward player. You don’t give up or avoid a heavy lift, you work the problem and find a way to success.
Kelly’s problem now is selling himself short-term to players and families, and connecting long-term with a new geographical recruiting footprint. He’s well on his way to solving Problem No. 1.
Just ask Kiffin.
2. All about the Jimmys and Joes
National Signing Day is Wednesday, and Kelly has LSU in position to nail down a top-20 class of high school recruits and transfer portal free agents.
Considering where LSU was when Kelly accepted the job on Dec. 2, it’s a minor miracle. The Tigers played their bowl game with less than 40 scholarship players because of injury, opt-outs and players transferring.
A wide receiver played quarterback in a loss to Kansas State, and LSU’s mojo – at an all-time high merely 2 seasons ago after winning the national title – was all but lost. Its best 2022 player (CB Eli Ricks) transferred to rival Alabama, and its starting quarterback (Max Johnson) transferred to Texas A&M.
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The program had 1 scholarship quarterback on the roster, and recruits were decommitting from a class that eventually fell all the way to the 60s in the 247Sports composite rankings.
It took less than 2 months for Kelly to completely reset the recruiting class, which currently sits at No. 18 in the 247Sports composite and could move higher with a couple of critical additions on Signing Day (5-star LB Harold Perkins, 4-star S Jacoby Mathews). Kelly also convinced QB Myles Brennan – injured for a majority of the previous 2 seasons – to return from the portal and stay at LSU.
Brennan, who played well as the starter in 2020 before a core injury ended his season, might be Kelly’s biggest recruit yet.
“Brian isn’t for everyone,” one former Notre Dame assistant said of Kelly. “He can rub a lot of people the wrong way. But he reaches young people because he doesn’t spread bull—. The parents love it. He tells them this is what’s going to happen, and here’s how we’re going to get there together. I’ve seen it over and over. At Notre Dame, he was selling a university and the academic elite, and football tradition. He’ll sell straight football and the NFL (at LSU) just as efficiently.”
3. Manning the rebuild, The Epilogue
The idea is to win early, because selling future success is much easier at 9-3 or 10-2, than it is at 6-6 or 7-5.
To that end, Kelly is banking on at least 10 transfers – with more additions likely in the coming weeks after spring practice filters players into the transfer portal – making an immediate impact.
The LSU roster is young, and Kelly wanted experienced FBS starters to at worst push young talent, and at best win starting jobs. CB Jarrick Bernard was an All-Big 12 at Oklahoma State, Mekhi Wingo was freshman All-SEC at Missouri, and both are Day 1 starters.
Penn State RB Noah Cain, Virginia LB West Weeks and Arkansas DBs Greg Brooks Jr. and Joe Foucha will compete with a core of talented underclassmen for starting jobs.
Ed Orgeron recruited well at LSU, and his last class may have been his best – signing 9 top-100 players. The class is loaded with skill players (specifically, receivers), and produced the best young defensive lineman in the SEC (Maason Smith).
“Believe me, they’ve got dudes. Don’t let anyone try to sell you anything else,” one SEC coach told me. “You think they have injuries at this position or that spot, but the guys they have playing are big and fast guys that haven’t had an opportunity yet. That No. 8 (WR Malik Nabers), you’ve got to be kidding me. He can’t get on the field there? That’s all going to change with (Kelly).”
4. Ruling the portal
Kiffin has quietly had a spectacular offseason of roster additions, a group that could keep Ole Miss among the West Division elite.
The latest move: USC transfer QB Jaxson Dart, who played well as a freshman last season and could’ve returned to USC from the portal.
Oklahoma QB Caleb Williams’ deliberate decision about his future transfer plans – USC, LSU or Wisconsin are the expected leaders – has pushed back numerous QB decisions, including Dart.
That Dart finally pulled the trigger on Ole Miss not only highlights the impact of playing for Kiffin – but also a few other moves from Kiffin this offseason.
The first, and most important, was the addition of Charlie Weis Jr. as offensive coordinator. He’s 28, and according to numerous NFL scouts and college football coaches, is a “football savant.”
A week after Weis was hired, former 5-star TB Zach Evans signed with Ole Miss. Dart and USC TE Michael Trigg, a highly coveted player in the portal, signed together with Ole Miss.
Kiffin has also added projected starters at wide receiver (Jordan Watkins, Louisville), safety (Isheem Young, Iowa State; Ladarius Tennison, Auburn), linebacker (Troy Brown, Central Michigan), and offensive tackle (Mason Brooks, WKU).
5. The Weekly Five
Five key dates of the SEC offseason.
1. March-April: spring games, all will be broadcast by ESPN or SEC Network.
2. May 1: Transfer portal closes for those wishing to play immediately in 2022 season.
3. Memorial Day weekend: SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla. Future conferences scheduling (8 or 9 games, future division size/alignment) will be a hot topic.
4. July: SEC Media Days, Atlanta.
5. August, first week: Start of fall camp and the 2022 season.
6. Your tape is your résumé
An NFL scout breaks down a draft-eligible SEC player. This week: Florida DE Zach Carter.
“He played inside and out this season, and played the best season of his career. He’s a 4-3 end, and he has the size and strength to be an anchor (end). I really like his length, and he knows how to use it with leverage. He’s strong with good hands, but he’s not going to be an explosion guy off the edge. His best pass rush ability is more leverage, and moves, but those guys can be successful, too. The lack of explosion will hurt him, and he’s not particularly quick laterally. He’s a Round 3 or 4 pick, and could move up a bit by outperforming expectations at the Combine or his pro day.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: best staff move, defense.
1. Alabama: Travaris Robinson, cornerbacks. The recruiting machine added another elite SEC recruiter.
2. Georgia: Will Muschamp, co-DC. He and Glenn Schumann are co-DCs, but make no mistake, Muschamp is the key to the defense continuing its dominance.
3. Texas A&M: DJ Durkin, DC. Rebuilt Ole Miss D with considerably less talent than current Aggies roster.
4. Ole Miss: Chris Kiffin, co-DC. Lane’s younger brother is an elite recruiter who was named in NCAA allegations last time he coached at Ole Miss under Hugh Freeze.
5. Arkansas: Firing DL Jermial Ashley. Hogs had 25 sacks in 2021; only Vandy (9) was worse in SEC.
6. LSU: Matt House, DC. Turned down Tennessee and Auburn after 2020 season, left NFL’s Chiefs for LSU.
7. Florida: Corey Raymond, cornerbacks. Smart hire (and elite recruiter) to rebuild once elite position at Florida.
8. Kentucky: Mike Stoops, linebackers. Has always been a solid position coach, will be smart sounding board for his brother, Mark.
9. Tennessee: Retaining the staff. HC Josh Heupel is adamant in his belief that continuity is critical for development, even with a defense that gave up 29.1 ppg.
10. South Carolina: Sterling Lucas, linebackers/ends. Previous relationship with DC Clayton White paved way for Lucas, who worked in the NFL since 2016.
11. Mississippi State: Kept DC Zach Arnett. Numerous Power 5 teams were interested, but Arnett, whose defense was No. 5 in the SEC (345.2 ypg.) in 2021, stayed in Starkville.
12. Auburn: Christian Robinson, linebackers. Could’ve been DC, but former Florida assistant adds scheme knowledge and is a terrific recruiter.
13. Missouri: Staying with DC Steve Wilks. HC Eliah Drinkwitz could’ve bent to pressure and replaced Wilks, but the unit got better in the last month of the season – and Wilks has a strong career track record.
14. Vanderbilt: Nick Howell, secondary. Commodores get big upgrade with Howell, DC at Virginia for the past 5 seasons.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: Do you expect Jermaine Burton to have the same impact at Alabama that Jameson Williams had? — Peter Beckley, Dallas.
Peter: The easy answer is Burton doesn’t have the elite speed of Williams, and we don’t yet know if any of the young Alabama receivers can emerge to give the Tide a dangerous second option (see: John Metchie III in 2021) and take constant double coverage away from Burton.
That said, Burton is a terrific talent. He was woefully underused at Georgia because the conservative offensive philosophy with QB Stetson Bennett all but eliminated intermediate and second level throws.
That all changes next season with Tide QB Bryce Young’s ability to make every throw – and as important, Burton’s ability to win on the outside and make second level catches that can stretch into explosion touchdown catch and runs.
Long story short: Burton can run, though not like Williams. But he’ll still have a significant impact on the Tide offense.
15.9. When DJ Durkin arrived at Ole Miss in 2020, any defensive improvement was welcomed. Now he arrives at Texas A&M after 4 straight seasons of strong defense – that concluded with the unit giving up just 15.9 ppg. in 2021 – led to Mike Elko earning the Duke job.
The Aggies return 5 starters, but more important, have signed what could be the best defensive recruiting class ever. Yep, ever.
If 5-star LB Harold Perkins signs with the Aggies on Wednesday, they could have as many as 6 freshmen starting in 2022: DLs Walter Nolen, Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy, CB Denver Harris, S Bryce Anderson and Deyon Bouie, and Perkins.
Durkin worked magic the past 2 seasons at Ole Miss with considerably less talent. What happens now when there’s an overload of it – and when expectations are at an all-time high?
10. Quote to note
In spirit of Kiffin trolling Kelly, while at the same time posing with recruits in front of a Ferrari, we give you this quote from Kiffin during the beginning of the Early Signing Period:
“We have free agency in college football. The kids, a lot of times, go to where they’re going to get paid the most. No one else is saying that, maybe. But the kids say, ‘This is what I’m getting here from NIL.’”