Well, my primary employer may not be thrilled with how often I’ve been checking for Ole Miss news over the past few weeks.
The blitzkrieg of this offseason has already produced enormous moves, most of them not great for Ole Miss. Rebel fans have seen offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby leave for the same role at Oklahoma and co-defensive coordinator DJ Durkin leave for the DC job at Texas A&M. On top of that, Matt Corral, Jerrion Ealy, and Snoop Conner have all declared for the NFL draft, and a lot of the pieces vital to this year’s success have graduated.
So a lot has already gone down, but technically this offseason is only a few days old. There will be twists and turns still to come, and rumors will abound. No matter what, though, there are a number of things that will have to happen in Oxford or the 10-2 season with a Sugar Bowl berth could become just another hilarious-to-casual-observers high and low swing of Ole Miss football’s success followed by disaster.
Hire a defensive coordinator
This one is probably the most pressing, as all the other defensive decisions rest on it. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad sign that DJ Durkin left for A&M, where he’ll be making more money and coaching a loaded roster, but Kiffin has to hit on his replacement. A couple of people I’d talk to if I were him, and the list might end here:
Heacock revolutionized the 3-2-6 at Iowa State, and the Ole Miss coaching staff, including Kiffin, flew to Iowa during the offseason to learn how to run it. He would be a home run and is paid roughly $800K a year, which Ole Miss could surpass by a good bit.
He’s already on staff and has proven to be one of only a couple of great recruiters. While he hasn’t called plays before, Partridge has been with great playcallers at Michigan and Ole Miss. If Kiffin can’t land Heacock, I think giving Partridge a shot is a good idea. It would provide some continuity, and if he turns out to be bad, Kiffin could make a change or bring in another co-DC next season.
Find a quarterback to compete with Luke Altmyer
Altmyer performed quite well for a true freshman during the Sugar Bowl, but the coaches have to bring in someone to compete. I think Altmyer could ultimately win the job against many possible transfers, but there are currently two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster with no inbound high schoolers. Which brings me to....
Commit a QB from the 2023 class
All eyes are on Arch Manning, and that’s reasonable, but much like the current starting quarterback battle, it can’t be an “Arch or no one” kind of situation. The coaches brought in tons of elite quarterbacks for visits during the season, including Manning, Nico Iamaleava, Jaden Rashada, and Jackson Arnold. All of those players are among the top 100, which is encouraging.
Find transfers to strengthen both sides of the ball
The Rebels already have one transfer inbound on each side of the ball in Jordan Watkins and Ladarius Tennison. Beyond that, there’s a lot of rumor and expectation but no closings yet. There are a lot of holes on this roster, and if the coaches have to get to option F, G, and H down the list at every position this team could be rough next year. A lot of that is because the coaches need to...
While things went OK in Kiffin’s first full season (with the signee list finishing at No. 17 nationally), the recruiting has been lackluster for the most part. On top of that, there don’t appear to be a lot of diamond-in-the-rough success stories so far in Kiffin’s first two classes. New blood might change things, but there seem to be structural issues that need to be resolved both within the walls of the football program and outside of them.