Lane Kiffin was introduced as the head football coach at Ole Miss on December 9, 2019. Since then, he has had to get his new roster on board, build a coaching staff, sign a recruiting class, deal with a global pandemic, and lobby Mississippi state legislature.
He’s taking care of business.
Let’s start at the beginning. When the 45-year-old seasoned veteran coach took over the Rebels, the team was coming off a 4-8 season that was largely attributed to poor coaching decisions and little mistakes that proved costly. Kiffin’s first step was righting the ship.
When Matt Luke was fired, multiple players expressed their disagreement and walked out of the meeting where Athletic Director Keith Carter delivered the news. Junior offensive lineman Chandler Tuitt even went so far as to say “half the team” was talking about leaving, and if the entire coaching staff was to be dismissed, he didn’t think many players were going to stick around.
That tune changed quickly when the Kiffin hire was announced. Defensive end Tariqious Tisdale was one of the first players to storm out of the meeting, and one of the first to tweet his excitement when the Lane Train pulled into Oxford.
When Kiffin got to town and spoke with his players, they bought in. His presence even extended so far as to entice quarterback Grant Tisdale and wide receivers Miles Battle and Demarcus Gregory, who were slated to transfer, to return to Ole Miss for the 2020 season.
Kiffin took care of business.
The players were priority number one. Priority number two was securing Early Signing Day. In his first week on the job, Ole Miss’ new head coach was traveling from Conway, Ark. to Baton Rouge, La. to Starkville, Miss. with hopes of getting the recruits Luke had on the hook into the boat, and perhaps snagging a surprise or two.
For a coach that was less than 10 days announced, he signed 11 recruits, only missed on five realistic targets, and landed quarterback Kade Renfro and cornerback Derek Bermudez over Florida State.
Some are concerned about FSU taking a 3-star cornerback who's unranked by some recruiting services.— Brendan Sonnone (@BSonnone) April 24, 2019
I wouldn't worry about the rankings just yet. It's hard to find 6-foot-2 corners who can turn, run and mirror downfield like Derek Bermudez:https://t.co/KhnNfdPmSh pic.twitter.com/hdu5nT06aD
It wasn’t a particularly eventful day, but it was enough. Kiffin took care of business.
Once the week-and-half rush on recruits is over, most coaches can take a moment to step back, enjoy the holidays and turn the focus to February’s National Signing Day. That wasn’t quite the case in Oxford. Kiffin needed a staff and went to work assembling what could be considered the best in the nation.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby was the first hire, bringing him over from one of the NCAA’s most explosive offenses at UCF. From there, the dominoes started to fall and big splash names came with former NFL running back Kevin Smith, defensive coordinators D.J. Durkin and Chris Partridge, and offensive line coach Randy Clements.
That group alone would be a quality staff, but Kiffin wasn’t done there. He iced the cake by pulling tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley away from in-division foe Texas A&M, and luring defensive backs coach Terrell Buckley and defensive line coach Deke Adams away from in-state, in-division rival Mississippi State.
Kiffin took care of business.
Once his personnel was established, the man in charge could turn his focus to the fall season, right?
The foot could not come off of the gas, and it didn’t. Ole Miss signed grad transfer Temple tight end Kenny Yeboah and Georgia defensive back Otis Reese to kick off recruiting, two players who are slated to provide a significant impact.
Soon thereafter, the new Ole Miss staff secured commitments from 4-star running back Henry Parrish and 4-star animal defensive end Demon Clowney, and flipped 4-star wide receiver Marc Britt from Florida to contribute to a recruiting class that didn’t move the needle, but filled the team’s needs.
Kiffin took care of business.
When the large chunk of the initial ‘offseason cycle’ is complete, the expectation lies in preparing players for the fall, working through spring ball and looking ahead to the second year recruiting class. In this case, a global pandemic hit one month after signing day.
It can not be stressed enough that it is a global pandemic. Plans change with circumstance.
While it’s easy to point at Tennessee’s success on the recruiting trail and question what could be seen as a lackluster effort from Ole Miss exactly six months yesterday into 2020, that is ridiculous. Sure, the 2021 class is not full of five-stars and big names thus far, but that doesn’t matter.
College football is not immune to a global pandemic and the recruiting dead period seems to be extended indefinitely. Kiffin and his team of recruiting masterminds are not worried, and you shouldn’t be either. The seven current commits are not the three-stars of the Luke era.
This staff identifies its needs, knows talent and sees how it fits in a roster under new leadership on both sides of the ball. Lebby’s offense requires a certain type of player with a high motor, and versatile athletes are vital in Durkin’s unique, many-look defense.
The Rebels’ secondary was a glaring issue throughout 2019, so Buckley and Partridge have signed two long corners in Kyndrich Breedlove and Demarko Williams and most recently added Elijah Sabbatini, a pure athletic safety from the coast. These are system fits for Ole Miss who were recruited by Oregon, South Carolina, Auburn, LSU and Memphis. They’re not scrubs.
BREEEEEEDLOVE!!!! @OleMissFB commit and Pearl Cohn Sprint champ runs a 4.37 at National College Recruitng Camp! Speed Kills! @NatlPlaymkrsAca @PCHS_Firebirds @BallHawkU @CSmithScout @JohnDBrice1 @Coach_Leb @elitefootballac pic.twitter.com/FIpgZJH4Al— NPA Sports (@BuckFitz) June 30, 2020
On offense, Lebby and his crew brought in Micah Pettus, a giant tackle who fills much-needed depth and a pair of four-star receivers in Bralon Brown and Adonai Mitchell to sure-up the already nasty wideouts for an offense that will look to go deep. Both guys are 6-foot-3, speedy playmakers who get ahead of corners or can win a jump ball.
The bones of the class are in place, the Rebels are already youthful, and time is a social construct. There is plenty of it. Especially in a global pandemic.
For the naysayers, Durkin added Navy transfer linebacker Jacob Springer, who really is that dude. Ole Miss also signed a giant defensive end transfer Tavius Robinson from Canada. Because why?
Because Kiffin is taking care of business.
Not to stoop to always bringing up Mississippi State, but look at first-year head coach Mike Leach’s class. It’s slightly larger, meaning less room for higher-rated recruits (even though stars are subjective) down the line, and equally as uninspiring. The Bulldogs, however, have players transferring out, not in. It’s early, and unprecedented for everybody.
On top of all the growing pains and new challenges of the first year at a new program, and a global pandemic, Kiffin has been lobbying for change in Mississippi alongside the other coaches from the state— one he has only called home for a few months. The flag came down this week. Kiffin is taking care of business. (Shoutout Kylin Hill.)
The wheels are in motion, the track record for Kiffin and his staff is there and patience is a virtue. Things are different and that’s okay, everyone needs to relax.
Lane Monte Kiffin is taking care of business.