Reactions: Lane Kiffin returns to the Southeastern Conference
OXFORD — It won't be official until sometime Saturday night or Sunday, but Lane Kiffin is Ole Miss' next head football coach..
Kiffin, who spent the past three seasons at Florida Atlantic, is no stranger to the Southeastern Conference. Just 44 years old, Kiffin has experience as the head coach at Tennessee and as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama.
He’s been one of the most beloved, vilified, polarizing and must-watch figures in the recent history of the league.
I canvassed national and regional journalists for reactions to the Rebels’ hiring of Kiffin.
Ross Dellenger, Sports Illustrated:
"I was talking with an SEC AD last month about Lane and he asked one question to me. 'Has he grown up?'
"It's what everybody wants to know. Being a head coach of a college football team goes well beyond drawing up plays. You're basically the face of a million-dollar company, a CEO who must make key decisions while not embarrassing the program. Kiffin has proven to be a genius on the offensive side of the ball, but the jury remains out on whether he's matured enough to lead a program. He's a risky move, one that could backfire or be incredibly successful."
Cecil Hurt, Tuscaloosa News:
“Lane has a year of SEC HC experience so he must have learned a few things. Plus three years of Saban and three at FAU. He should be more mature. He’s as good an offensive mind on game day as I’ve seen. He could probably do with (John Rhys) Plumlee what he did with Jalen Hurts (if JRP can improve his passing) and be very effective from Day 1. He will hire good recruiters. He pushed to the edge at UT and had some secondary NCAA stuff but they got players and didn’t wreck the program. I think the big question around Lane is whether he is a quick fix or a program builder. We had limited interaction (Saban Rules) but he was good media-wise with me. I’d take a chance on him. JMO.”
Mike Detillier, College/Pro Football Analyst, WWL (New Orleans):
“SEC West is tough. We all see that. Lane has a very fertile offensive football mind. Everyone that has worked with him says it. Recruits know about his smarts in the pitch and catch part of the game. Coach (Ed) Orgeron has highly praised him as a recruiter and the ability to relate to high school players. He did a great job as a recruiter out of the state of California when he was an assistant there under Pete Carroll. He's a balanced offensive coach. It is just not throwing the ball around, it is also about running the ball also. His teams at FAU have been well balanced. This will all be about what type of staff and the recruits he can get on defense. His offense will be explosive and he's a good recruiter.
“The part everyone brings up is his stubbornness at times and with some heavyweights in football with guys like Al Davis (Oakland Raiders) and also with Nick Saban. He was a young coach and he writes and says things that some will wonder about, but who cares if he wins? We’re not all the same. It's the maturity issue in a world that isn't kind to people outside of the norm, if you can't win games. The Raiders situation was structural from top to bottom. It just ended ugly at USC and he rubbed some of the money heavyweights the wrong way and some influential alumni, but again he was a young head coach. The SEC is more and more of a pitch-and-catch league and he brought that element to Alabama under Nick Saban. At times Saban bucked about it, but what he did back then, Alabama does today. It was a win-win for both sides. He helped Saban develop more of a open-field passing game and that job at Alabama gave him oxygen to get another head coaching spot. He's talkative, brash at times, he will push the envelope at times, but he has had great success at Florida Atlantic and he is not getting the 4- and 5-star recruits there.
“I always felt he wanted back in the SEC as a head coach and he has a better vision of what and how he wants to build a program than he did in his younger head coaching days. He's quirky, but that doesn't mean anything to me if he wins. I know Coach O thinks a lot of him as a head coach and thinks he will have an impact anywhere he coaches, especially on offense. His key is recruiting top defensive coaches and top defensive players-and that element is super competitive today.”
Ryan Brown, WJOX Birmingham:
“I think it’s a good hire. You’ve got a guy who knows offense and knows how to coach offense. If you look back to when Ole Miss was competing in the SEC, it was with Hugh Freeze running an offense that was tough to stop. They were hard to get off the field and out of the end zone. It’s almost the Washington State model.
“As a recruiter, he’s very good. He likes to recruit. He’s driven by recruiting. He’s an introvert and some call him socially awkward, but with recruits, that’s where he thrives. I think he learned from his mistakes at Tennessee. At USC and Alabama, he learned you have to limit the guys you take chances on. You don’t stay on Nick Saban’s staff unless you’re dedicated to recruiting. That’s paramount.
“To me the most fascinating part of this is does Ole Miss allow him to do the same social media stuff he did at FAU. He did some wild and outlandish stuff and crossed the line at times. He had to be anonymous in Tuscaloosa to a certain extent. He made a complete transformation to FAU. At a place like Ole Miss where you have to fight Alabama and Mississippi State and LSU, anything you can do to make your program more exciting, I think you should do it. I do think it connects with the 18-year-olds you’re trying to connect to.
“I think he’s a rehabbed coach. He rehabbed his image as a coach overall in Tuscaloosa. He rehabbed his image as a head coach at FAU. I think if success is keeping bowl-eligible on a consistent basis, win eight or nine games on a regular basis and upset some bluebloods, I think that’s who Lane Kiffin is.”
Chris Landry, Louisiana-based veteran college and NFL scout, analyst:
“Lane is a hellacious recruiter. Offensively, he has great ideas. As a head coach, he’s grown up. It’s a little bit of a risk but it’s not like he’s a bad guy. I think Ole Miss would be very fortunate to get him. You’ll be living on the edge but this would certainly show, short term at least, that they’re very serious at Ole Miss. He’s a very good hire.”
Taylor Zarzour, play-by-play broadcaster, SEC Network:
“He’s a guy that brings maybe an unmatched amount of juice to the job. People who wouldn’t typically be interested in Ole Miss football, he’ll now have their attention. He’s a terrific in-game play-caller who is great at seeing the deficiencies of a defense in real time.
“My question is his ability to be a consistent leader of his program Sunday through Friday. That’s a diplomatic way of saying his mouth gets in the way a lot. The challenge for Lane will be to pick his spots and be a responsible, mature coach all of the time.
“They’ll have a dynamic offense. Everyone will know who they are. That’ll be worth something in recruiting. He has a tremendous passion for going after high school talent. He’ll push everyone’s buttons and not feel bad about it. The challenge will be to be a responsible leader the entire year.”
Woody Wommack, rivals.com recruiting analyst:
"I'm glad to see Kiffin back in the SEC and I think he's learned a lot over the past decade plus. He's coaching alongside Nick Saban and had a chance to learn from the best, but he's also been at the controls of his own program the past few years, giving him a chance to implement the things he's learned without the spotlight of a major job. Now, he heads back into the SEC West and will be back against familiar foes.
“As far as recruiting, I think he's a great fit. He has plenty of ties to the state of Tennessee and is well-known to recruits all across Alabama and Florida as well. Given his high profile, hiring Kiffin isn't like plucking an unknown from the Group of Five level. He already has name recognition with recruits from around the country and that's the first part of the battle when it comes to recruiting.
“I don't think Kiffin gets enough credit for helping monderize the Alabama offense and he's shown at FAU that he can do it with a run-heavy attack and with a revolving door at quarterback. I think the pairing between him and Plumlee should make for a very exciting offensive attack."
Matt Moscona, Host, After Further Review, ESPN Baton Rouge/New Orleans:
“Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss is a perfect hire. It’s high risk/high reward but it’s exactly the gamble Ole Miss needs. Kiffin can handle the football side. He aced his test as Bama OC and is on the verge of two titles in three years at FAU. And for a program that feels like it’s at a perpetual recruiting disadvantage, Kiffin can get in any kid’s home. He’s got ties from coast-to-coast and has an NFL pedigree. It’s a splash that brings immediate attention to the program and he knows the SEC West. I just can’t imagine Ole Miss doing better.”
Chase Goodbread, NFL.com:
"From a recruiting standpoint, I would expect him to stretch Ole Miss' reach geographically. He'll no doubt work South Florida coming from FAU but beyond that, I don't think he would look at beating MSU in-state as quite the necessity some coaches have. Both in recruiting and on the field, he'll exploit Ole Miss' reputation for having good receivers, but it's less of a spread-the-ball concept. If you look at Marqise Lee at USC and his run as Alabama's OC with Amari Cooper, he wants to feed the top dog with 10 touches or more."
David Brandt, Associated Press:
"The best thing about this hire is Ole Miss should be getting the best version of Lane Kiffin possible.
"Kiffin has universally been regarded as a good, or even great, offensive mind, but had the reputation for being a little immature in his 30s. Now he’s in his 40s, worked with Nick Saban and done a nice job of building a program and winning games at Florida Atlantic. He’s still got personality, but seems a little more adept at running an entire program and not just calling cool plays.
"The thing Ole Miss desperately needed after the vanilla Matt Luke era is a coach who could differentiate himself and carve out an identity in a difficult division. Even though there’s a lot of really good coaches in the SEC West, there’s not a ton of personality outside of Ed Orgeron. Kiffin should be able to get into a lot of homes and – unlike during his time at Tennessee or USC – have a resume to go with the personality when luring recruits.
" As for his on-the-field chops, his time at Alabama tells all you need to know.
"Nick Saban – one of the greatest college football coaches in history – trusted Kiffin to revamp his offense. I know there are video clips of Saban getting mad at Kiffin and the two didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but I can’t stress this enough: NICK SABAN TRUSTED LANE KIFFIN TO REVAMP HIS OFFENSE. If he’s good enough for Saban, he should be good enough for Ole Miss.
"So, will this work out? Who knows? Ole Miss is a tough job (like a lot of SEC jobs) and the competition is fierce. But what Ole Miss fans should like is that the hire makes sense from every possible perspective and it’s an ambitious move. This hire says that the Rebels aren’t trying to go 7-5 or 8-4. They’re trying to win the West. Judging from the last 50 years, that won’t be easy, but at least they’re trying.
"Tickets will be sold, butts will be in seats and Ole Miss football should be interesting for something besides fake No. 1s in the end zone."