As Ole Miss gears up to face Arkansas in its fourth game of the season, the SEC West matchup pits Jeff Lebby against Kendal Briles, two young offensive minds against one another in a chess match of two schemes that are cut from the same cloth. Let’s start with the Rebels.
Lebby was hired as head coach Lane Kiffin’s offensive coordinator in December and has completely overhauled a group that ran the ball more often than not in 2019. Through its first three games, including two top-five opponents, Ole Miss is the third most efficient offense in the country per Pro Football Focus. Quarterback Matt Corral ran away with the offseason quarterback competition and has been dominant.
Ole Miss QB Matt Corral ranks:— Matt Zenitz (@mzenitz) October 11, 2020
— No. 1 nationally in total offensive yards per game (407)
— No. 2 in pass efficiency (210.7)
— No. 3 in completion percentage (76.1)
— No. 3 in yards per completion (16.1)
— No. 5 in passing yards per game (360)
— No. 6 in TD passes per game (3)
Around him, Elijah Moore is PFF’s fifth highest-graded player in the SEC with 462 yards on 31 catches, tight end Kenny Yeboah has four touchdowns and the backfield duo of Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner have combined for 422 rushing yards and eight scores. The Rebels are lighting up the box scores and hung 125 points on its first three opponents.
While a loss is a loss is a loss, as Kiffin would say, there have been signs of life in Oxford. Points and positive yardage is a reoccurring theme that stems from a lot of talent across the board. However, the root of success comes from Lebby and the coaches, who have kept the foot on the gas and out-schemed their opponents, as well as previous staffs in Oxford. The numbers speak to that notion.
Ole Miss Third Down Conversion Percentage:— Derrell Hart Jr., Pharm.D. (@Derrell_PharmD) October 11, 2020
2020 - 55.80% - 7th in the nation.
2019 - 35.76% - 97th
2018 - 33.33% - 113th
2017 - 36.30% - 94th
2016 - 37.18% - 91st
We had a sense of what a Lebby offense would look like prior to the season, and we knew it would be fast, fearless and physical. With Kiffin’s influence sprinkled in, it has been exceptional.
Lebby grew up in West Texas, where his father Mike spent four decades coaching high school football. This is where the Briles connection begins. At one of his many stops, Mike Lebby coached alongside Art Briles, who coached in the same part of Texas for twenty years at five different schools. As a result, 36-year-old Jeff Lebby, son of Mike, grew up with 37-year-old Kendal Briles, son of Art. The two have been friends since they were little and both ended up on similar trajectories after attending college in the Big 12.
Art Briles was hired as the head coach of Baylor football in 2008 and was soon to hire his son and Lebby as offensive assistants in the same year. Both SEC West coordinators began the collegiate portion of their careers with the Bears at 24 years old.
Three years into their time in Waco, Tx., Lebby married Kendal’s sister and Art’s daughter Staley in 2011. They now have two kids.
It’s a family thing! #WIN @Coach__Clements @LoadholtPhil @AlecAbeln pic.twitter.com/25NBYZMg3l— Jeff Lebby (@Coach_Leb) October 2, 2020
To say that the two families are closely-tied is an understatement.
“I’ve known the guy since I was born and he was born,” Briles said to the Tampa Bay Times in 2019. “I’ve known him my entire life, literally.”
Both offensive minds learned the game under Art Briles and rose up the coaching tree for eight years. They began first as position coaches and then moved up to offensive coordinator and passing game coordinator alongside one another.
We would be remiss not to mention the cloud that hangs over their time at Baylor and ultimately resulted in the firing of Art Briles and the resignation of university president Ken Starr and athletic director Ian McCaw. The university’s sexual assault scandal was the result of an investigation into 125 allegations that accused Baylor students, and as many as 31 football players, of sexual and physical assault, gang rape or harassment from 2011 and 2015. Three football players were initially indicted, two have been convicted and one has been found not guilty. Art Briles and the football team came under fire when it was revealed that university officials had failed to take action regarding the initial allegations. Art Briles was atop the program and ultimately responsible for much of the cover-up, it is unclear as to the knowledge of those around him, and neither Lebby nor Kendal Briles were implicated in the university’s investigation or the legal investigation. The entire staff remained in tact after Art Briles was ousted in 2016 but were ultimately not retained by Matt Rhule when he was brought on as the head coach.
Both Lebby and Kendal Briles moved on from Baylor and accepted offensive coordinator roles in 2017. Lebby went to Southeastern, a small NAIA school in Lakeland, Fla., while Briles went to Boca Raton and joined Kiffin’s staff at Florida Atlantic.
The Owls won 11 games in Briles’ only year under Kiffin and averaged nearly 500 yards of offense per game. Kiffin relinquished the play-calling duties to his young coordinator, as he has with Lebby at Ole Miss, and the results spoke for themselves. Knowing Briles’ playbook and coaching style may provide a competitive advantage come Saturday.
After one year at their respective programs, Lebby moved on to UCF as the quarterbacks coach in 2018 and was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2019, while Briles coached one year at Houston and one year at Florida State.
“We talk about everything all the time,” Briles said while the two were coaching in Florida. “If there is something that getting after the defense with, you know, I’ll ask him about it. We’ll send video through our phone. Same with us. We share information.”
Lebby’s offense dominated opponents at UCF and he has made quick work of whipping the offense into shape at Ole Miss. Briles, who accepted the opportunity to coach in the SEC when Sam Pittman was hired as the head coach of Arkansas, has done a good job of turning around the Hogs’ offense through the first three games.
The Razorbacks have not lit up the scoreboard like the Rebels, but they hung tight with No. 13 Auburn last weekend and boast a victory over (broken-wagoned) Mississippi State. Transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks has thrown for seven touchdowns behind a sub-par offensive line and running back Treion Smith is averaging 4.1 yards per carry— which isn’t great, but it’s positive yardage.
Briles will have another chance to build his team’s stats on Saturday as Arkansas lines up against a very bad Ole Miss defense. Lebby will look to continue his offensive output against a defense that allowed 38 points to Georgia and 30 points to Auburn. Neither the Bulldogs nor the Tigers offense is as fast or as efficient as the Rebels’ thus far and Lebby is surely determined to coach circles around his lifelong friend and family member.
The scene is set and the battle of brother-in-laws will commence at 2:30 p.m. CDT on SEC Network.