Perhaps being the Portal King comes with its own special set of challenges as a head coach in the SEC - the toughest conference in the nation.
Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin intimated as much as he addressed media from the podium at SEC Media Days on Monday afternoon. Kiffin has more than a dozen high level transfers coming onto the Ole Miss roster amid losing a ton of production offensively and defensively from a squad that went 10-3 with a Sugar Bowl appearance.
Kiffin said the portal has given Ole Miss the ability to not just think outside the box but “create a new box”, which is something coaches have to do to succeed in Oxford. The influx of new talent and roster overhaul, however, brings a task to the coaching staff of getting a new locker room atmosphere and culture established in a short time period.
“At the same time with everything good, there are challenges as well. You have people coming from — like I’ve said, kids coming from different parenting, and we have to put them all together as this blended family. That is challenging,” Kiffin said. “We have a lot of culture work to do that you don’t really have to do as much because it’s already established because your best players normally have been in your program for a year or two.”
The additional take on his opening comments is there are players incoming who are going to be some of the best players on the team potentially. This is not new information as fans certainly expected Zach Evans, Michael Trigg and Jaxson Dart to see the field immediately for the Rebels.
The job for coaches though will be managing transfers’ expectations and also existing players’ demands for playing time as well. Where it might be humbling for a junior or senior to get benched because of a stud freshman coming in, it’s equally frustrating to see a transfer come in and take minutes from a player who has been working in red and blue for a few years.
Keeping those egos in check will be a challenge, and it’s one Kiffin said he is looking forward to. Fans will certainly have to look for which players are stepping up as the new leaders on this team with the departure of quarterback Matt Corral who galvanized this program the past two seasons.
“Matthew is a special player, as you guys know, but a special leader. He just led by example,” Kiffin said. “Our defensive players, he won them by the style he played, running over linebackers. That’s a challenge to replace. That won’t just be quarterback. I think you got to have great leadership when you lose somebody like that and you have young quarterbacks coming in, regardless of who wins it, for other people around that position to step up.”
With the start of the season less than 50 days away, it seems there’s ample opportunity for one of the touted transfers or one of the veterans on this squad to answer this call for a new leader.