While it might feel like I just published a piece about the five things Ole Miss and Lane Kiffin need to prioritize this offseason, that was really only 22 days ago. I know. I checked the date too.
Let’s just say a lot has happened since then. At the time, many Ole Miss fans seemed to think the sky was falling. Jeff Lebby and DJ Durkin, both coordinators for the Rebels, had just left for jobs that, while not lateral, weren’t tremendous leaps up the coaching ladder. Kevin Smith, the running backs coach who followed Kiffin from FAU, had bolted for Miami. Several transfers Ole Miss fans and coaches really wanted had chosen to go elsewhere. Kiffin was enjoying a beach vacation, and both those covering and those following the program had begun describing him as lazy.
Essentially, there was a lot more going out than coming in, and there was reason for some worry. Just 22 days later, a lot has changed. Let’s revisit those offseason priorities a bit now.
Hire a defensive coordinator
Yeah. That’s done, and the choices were pretty great. Kiffin promoted Chris Partridge from within, as I expected. Partridge has been instrumental in landing some of Kiffin’s most heralded recruits, namely Tywone Malone, Davison Igbinosun, Jaron Willis, Demon Clowney, and Tysheem Johnson, all four-star defenders.
As I said, I expected that. The receipts are in the link. What I didn’t expect was for Kiffin to bring in his brother, Chris, as a co-DC. Chris had been serving as the defensive line coach of the Cleveland Browns, where he mentored such players as Myles Garrett and Jadaveon Clowney. Not bad imo. Kiffin is also seen as a prolific recruiter, having run point on the recruitments of Laquon Treadwell, Laremy Tunsil, Benito Jones, and many other incredible players during his first stint at Ole Miss. Bringing him on staff as a replacement to DJ Durkin is magnificent, even if he won’t be asked to call plays like Durkin did.
Find a quarterback to compete with Luke Altmyer
Check! 247Sports ranks Jaxson Dart as the No. 3 transfer in the entire transfer portal, regardless of position. Several reports have linked Dart to Ole Miss as a signee with an announcement pending.
While he still has plenty to work on, the 6’3” 215 pound Dart started six games for a faltering USC team as a freshman and performed admirably, posting a QBR of 67.7. That’s not magnificent, but to put things in perspective, Matt Corral’s season BR was just 80.5. Luke Altmyer’s (very limited) QBR was a 24.6. I do think Altmyer has a chance to be a good quarterback, but he didn’t do enough this season to avoid competition.
Commit a QB from the 2023 class
This one is still a work in progress. First off, new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. has already seen Arch Manning twice in person. Kiffin has seen him once. They’re pushing hard for Manning, but there are plenty of other options at the position as well. Manning’s recent decision to hold off on a commitment until the Summer could throw a bit of a wrench in Ole Miss’ plans at the position, but they have time to sort this one out.
Find transfers to strengthen both sides of the ball
When I wrote this piece, Ole Miss had two inbound transfers in Jordan Watkins and Ladarius Tennison, both good players but neither one a proven difference maker. Then the floodgates opened. Since that time, Ole Miss has announced transfers from running back Zach Evans, defensive tackle JJ Pegues, linebacker Troy Brown, offensive tackle Mason Brooks, and safety Isheem Young. All five had incredibly high impacts at their previous schools, and all are expected to immediately start and make a difference for this team. Tight end Michael Trigg and Jaxson Dart are just icing on the cake at this point.
It’s way too early to assess where things stand in high school recruiting, but the Rebels took a big step Friday, poaching LSU general manager Austin Thomas away. Thomas previously served at A&M, USC, and Baylor, and is seen as a star on the management side of college football. Here’s a good read on him from a few years back.
There’s still a long way to go, but these goals are beginning to be met, and next year’s team looks a lot better than it did just a month ago.