So far, most of our offseason Ole Miss football coverage has centered on Lane Kiffin and co.’s efforts to overhaul the roster via the transfer portal. That work is… mostly done. The Rebs almost certainly need a veteran running back, and another defensive lineman or cornerback wouldn’t hurt either. Still, Ole Miss enters the spring semester with, dare I say, the best roster the program has ever had. Ever.
What we haven’t talked about as much is the changes to the Ole Miss coaching staff. Since Kiffin arrived at Ole Miss following the 2019 season, he has now completely turned over his original coaching staff, save for defensive line coach Randall Joyner. And while many of the departing coaches have moved on to bigger roles or bigger programs, Kiffin has almost always managed to upgrade when replacing outgoing coaches. Let’s take a look at how the coaching staff has changed over the offseason.
Out: wide receiver coach Derrick Nix.
In: Illinois wide receiver coach George McDonald.
Auburn fans became mad online (assuming they ever stopped being mad online) when the official Ole Miss football Twitter/X account effectively “scooped” Auburn media in announcing that longtime Rebel WR coach/assistant head coach Derrick Nix was leaving to become the Tigers’ offensive coordinator. The tweet included a quote from Lane Kiffin, acknowledging that Nix was taking the opportunity to become “a first-time playcaller with full-time playcalling duties.” Indeed, Auburn HC Hugh Freeze proclaimed before making the hire that his new OC would be solely in charge of playcalling. Whether or not Kiffin’s quote was intended as a dig or not… anyone’s guess.
Anyways, Nix’s departure definitely hurts on the recruiting front, and from a culture/continuity standpoint. Also, let’s not forget his track record of developing wide receivers out of the high school ranks. Who can forget his success in coaching up star wideouts like………………………………………………………………………………give me a second………………………… ok, so it actually turns out that Derrick Nix has failed to develop a single high school wide receiver into a regular contributor in four years on the job. Whoops!
So as Nix heads off to the Plains to accept a job as the first lieutenant on a ship that’s about halfway underwater, Lane Kiffin hires Illinois WR coach and assistant head coach George McDonald to step in to coach one of the top three or so wide receiver rooms in the country. McDonald recruited and coached All-Big Ten wideout Isaiah Williams, who led the conference in receptions, while two other Illini receivers eclipsed 500 yards. McDonald at different times has served as the WR coach for the Cleveland Browns, the offensive coordinator for Western Michigan and Syracuse, co-OC and WR coach for NC State, and WR coach/passing game coordinator for Miami. So… probably a better resume than hanging out at Ole Miss for the last 15 years.
Look, I don’t begrudge Nix for taking the Auburn job, nor do I think he was a bad coach for Ole Miss. I would always scratch my head when it appeared that in any given game, there were either 3 or 4 receivers who got meaningful playing time. That’s not necessarily on Nix, but I do look forward to seeing what someone else can do in that role. Onward…
Out: tight ends coach John David Baker
In: Alabama tight ends coach Joe Cox
Like Nix, Baker leaves Ole Miss to accept an offensive coordinator job, in this case at East Carolina. Baker takes the helm of the Pirate offense as ECU comes off of a 2-10 season, preceded by 7-5 and 8-5 seasons. So there is something of a rebuild needed in Greenville, but Baker, at just 33 years old, would be hard-pressed to pass up the opportunity. While Baker appeared to do a good job with an often-thin TE room, his biggest contribution to the Ole Miss football program was helping to bring in Jaxson Dart from USC. He also played a big role in bringing in Trojan tight end Michael Trigg, but Trigg’s many discipline issues led to him being an outright bust for Ole Miss. And if I’m going to bust Derrick Nix’s balls for failing to develop high school prospects at his position, the same must be said for Baker. While he only had three years on the Rebel staff, the only quality starter at TE during those three years was ready-made portal prospect Caden Prieskorn.
In comes Alabama’s Joe Cox. In employment limbo after the sudden retirement of Nick Saban, Cox obviously inherited a stacked TE room in Tuscaloosa when he took the job in 2022, but by all accounts did a good job coaching them up, and was praised by Saban as being “one of the brightest young guys that we’ve seen in a while.” Cox was a former starting QB for UGA, and is a native of North Carolina, where he’s already done some recruiting groundwork for the Rebs. Prior to his time at Alabama, Cox coached wide receivers and tight ends at Colorado State, South Carolina, and the University of Charlotte.
Out: cornerbacks coach Keynodo Hudson
In: Cincinnati defensive coordinator Bryan Brown
Hudson spent just a year in Oxford, so we didn’t get a great bead on what kind of job he did (or would have done further down the road). The former Illinois assistant was blessed with two senior starters in Deantre Prince and Zamari Walton, who took about 98% of the snaps at cornerback until late in the season, when Miami transfer Chris Graves came on and played quite a bit. So I won’t even pretend to make any sort of judgements on Hudson’s performance, except to say that his track record in the Midwest might have made him an odd fit on the recruiting front in the long run. Anyways, in comes former Ole Miss defensive back and Cincinnati DC Bryan Brown. Brown’s career has largely followed that of Scott Satterfield; the 40 year-old Brown was Satterfield’s DC at Appalachian State, where he coached one of the best defenses in the country, then followed Scott to Louisville following the 2018 season, and Cincinnati following the 2022 season. Brown took a bad Louisville defense and started to turn it around, but didn’t have time to do much in Cincinnati. Regardless, Brown is well-regarded as a defensive mind, and joins the Rebels with a Co-DC tag alongside Pete Golding. Brown is the only Ole Miss alum among the main coaching staff; and while I like Lane Kiffin’s determination to get away from the “keep it in the family” approach that is often detrimental to running an athletic department, I do think it’s good to have at least one or two guys on staff with previous ties to the school. Brown might end up being the best hire Ole Miss makes this offseason; I consider it a huge home run.
Out: Football Chief of Staff Austin Thomas
In: University of Texas director of player personnel Billy Glasscock
Austin Thomas has been regarded as one of the top personnel managers in all of college football over the past few years, doing great work for Ole Miss, LSU, Texas A&M, and Baylor. Thomas’s position is somewhat new to the college football world, but is increasingly relevant in the era of the transfer portal and NIL. I love both of these developments in the sport, but managing a roster year in and year out is an absolute nightmare of a chore as a result. Thomas is as good as anyone. So when Thomas started leaning towards leaving to head back to Baton Rouge, Ole Miss fans and program insiders were worried that the tight ship he’s been running in Oxford might spring a leak. Not so fast. While Thomas is certainly a young star at what he does, Ole Miss made an absolute grand slam hire in picking up UT’s Billy Glasscock, who has been in the game longer, and is a pioneer at the whole “college football GM” thing. Before Glasscock, UT was a school with all the resources in the world, but which kept slamming its own proverbial dick in the proverbial car door… so to speak. Now, UT is looking like a perennial national title contender again, with depth and talent all over. Fellow SBNation blog Burnt Orange Nation wrote an article on Glasscock’s departure, giving him lots of props for what he’s done for the program.