After Lane Kiffin’s official announcement as the new head football coach on Monday, we asked Ole Miss students to give us their reactions to the hire.
OXFORD, Miss. — Just one day after a brutal Egg Bowl loss, rumors began to circulate that Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke was in jeopardy of being fired. Athletics Director Keith Carter later confirmed the rumors, and within hours the search for the 39th head coach of Ole Miss football began to take off.
There were a number of imminently qualified candidates rumored for the job, including former Memphis HC Mike Norvell, ULL’s HC Billy Napier, and Charlotte’s HC Will Healy.
However, the one name that stood apart for a program in need of a spark was Florida Atlantic’s Lane Kiffin. There was support for Norvell, Napier, and Healy, but when it came down to it, Carter decided Kiffin was the ‘perfect fit’ for Ole Miss.
From the beginning of the process, Carter made his feelings clear: “More than anything, we want energy, passion, and a track record of success. We want a program builder who can galvanize and help unite Rebel Nation.”
Check. Check. Check. And Check.
Over 4,000 Rebels were on hand in The Pavilion for Monday afternoon’s introduction of Kiffin–4,000. On a Monday, in December, during finals week. That’s a pretty impressive start.
You would be hard-pressed to find any Ole Miss fan who doesn’t think this was a slam dunk hire for Carter, who just weeks earlier became Ole Miss’ AD.
Ole Miss students on the Lane Train
You’ve no doubt seen reactions about Kiffin’s hire from media, alumni, fans and other coaches, but you might not know what our current students feel about it. So we asked them to give us their thoughts on the new man in charge in Oxford.
“Lane Kiffin provides excitement that we students desperately needed. Keith Carter knocked it out of the park with this hire. Ole Miss football is now fun again, and I love it.”
Ross Montgomery (Senior, Accounting)
Yep, I’d have to agree there.
Lane Kiffin as a coach brings name recognition, fresh energy, and has already begun to unite Rebel Nation as Carter certainly must have hoped.
“The Lane Train… I mean, that speaks for itself. This hire has already brought excitement to the program once again. So how long is it until the first game in Houston? Hotty Toddy!”
Anna Tate (Freshman, Broadcast Journalism)
After Ole Miss posted its lowest attendance numbers in Vaught-Hemingway since 2001, Carter knew his choice of the next head football coach would be critical. He needed to find a way to bring people back. Within 24 hours of the hire being announced, Ole Miss’ ticket website crashed, because of so many fans trying to secure a spot in the Vaught for 2020.
On a radio show Thursday morning, Carter indicated approximately 1,000 new season ticket packages have been sold since the announcement of Kiffin’s acceptance of the job, with many more calls of interest coming in every day.
Kiffin’s record of success is noteworthy. In December 2016, he took over an FAU program that had won only nine total games over the previous three seasons. Over the last three years, he took the Owls to new heights–including two conference titles and two 10-win seasons.
In his head coaching stops at USC, Tennessee and FAU, Kiffin has shown a propensity in helping turn programs around. In his first season at all three locations, Kiffin’s team improved in win differential (+3.33), scoring (+10.2), passing (+34.5 ypg) and rushing (+51.3 ypg).
What all that means to a beleaguered fan base is renewed energy, pure and simple.
“I’m excited about having Lane Kiffin back in the SEC. Makes me ready for football season to get here already!”
Abby Trawick (Freshman, Early Entry Pharmacy)
You and me both, Abby.
And Knox Kiffin, Lane’s son, shares our excitement, too…
Lane Kiffin's son is all about his dad returning to the SEC. pic.twitter.com/u0zCTgQUCm
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) December 7, 2019
You can literally hear the enthusiasm in the voices of SEC Network hosts Marty Smith and Ryan McGee as they talk about Kiffin and Ole Miss, something Rebels haven’t heard in a while.
Could Lane Kiffin be the first of Nick Saban’s proteges to beat him? Not one of Saban’s former assistants has ever emerged victorious in a game against their former boss.
Paul Finebaum likes Kiffin’s chances: “I’m predicting it right now. It’s going to be Lane Kiffin. Lane Kiffin is going to be the coach that beats Nick Saban, and the world will stop spinning on its axis.”
Not Kirby Smart, not Jimbo Fisher, and not Jeremy Pruitt.
Many believe Kiffin’s choice to return to the SEC might have been fueled, in part, by a fire to beat Saban–after Kiffin was fired by Saban three years ago, right before the national championship.
“Glad all of Ole Miss is about to hop on the Lane Train ’cause we’re headed straight for Bama.”
Landon Sahler (Freshman, Business)
I think that’s exactly what Kiffin is thinking too, Landon.
But whatever the reasons for Kiffin’s arrival in Oxford, he is being welcomed with open arms. Here are some more thoughts from Ole Miss students:
“The Lane Kiffin hire was not only a home run, but it has the potential to be a grand slam hire depending who he brings in. Some of the rumors of names I’ve seen on Twitter bring me even more excitement. Keith Carter did an outstanding job with this hire. As a student, the atmosphere and buzz surrounding this hire is undeniable. I saw that first hand last night at the airport. I’ll admit that I was not an original fan of this hire, but after the news broke, I can’t help but say All Aboard!”
Noah Franks (Sophomore, Mechanical Engineering)
As for Kiffin, he’s well aware of what it means to be in the Southeastern Conference.
“There’s college football everywhere and then there’s the SEC,” Kiffin said.
“There’s nothing like it, the fan base, the energy, the game day environment. I loved our time here at FAU and what we were able to do, but the one thing that was missing was that feeling on game day that you’re going against the best players, the best coaches in the world every Saturday.”
Lane Kiffin on SEC football
Luke to Kiffin
One of the main reasons Kiffin says he chose Ole Miss over the many other programs vying for his services (we’re looking at you, Arkansas) is the talented roster he inherits from Coach Luke.
Matt Luke did a great job of stabilizing a program that was on the verge of being in shambles. However, it was time to move in a new direction. Ole Miss needed a splash hire, and we got that in ‘Joey Freshwater.’
Michael Thomas (Junior, Biology)
You nailed it on the head, Michael.
It is important to recognize the job Matt Luke did in his three years at Ole Miss. Yes, he was 15-21 (6-18 SEC), but he kept Ole Miss football afloat in the aftermath of one of the longest, most debilitating NCAA investigations on record. He kept the team together at a critical juncture, a team that because of sanctions was at times forced to play with fewer than 60 scholarship players. In the SEC, it’s hard to be competitive with a full roster –much less with scholarship numbers more on par with an FCS program.
In addition to the scholarship reductions, there were fines and bowl bans, yet Coach Luke still managed to sign two top-35 classes that included names like John Rhys Plumlee, Jerrion Ealy, and Nick Broeker, who were all named true freshman All-Americans by 247Sports.com this week.
The 2019 class was ranked No. 22 in the nation, a huge feat considering all the Rebels had endured. That is a testament to Coach Luke and his staff.
To no one’s surprise, after he was let go from Ole Miss, Coach Luke landed on his feet. He was hired Tuesday to be Georgia’s offensive line coach. Kirby Smart issued a statement after the hire, saying: “He’s a proven football coach who has a wealth of experience on the offensive side of the ball, especially in the offensive line. He has a great reputation among those who have played for him and it’s obvious watching his teams over many years that players love him and play hard for him.”
Obviously coaching is all about production, but the words of Smart reflect the thoughts of many fans and Ole Miss players that I hope continue to define Luke’s career. That chapter of Ole Miss football has ended, though, and it’s time for the Lane Kiffin era to begin.
Senior Zach Hopper has seen the ups and downs of the program throughout his time in Oxford.
The Lane Kiffin hire couldn’t have come at a better time for our university. With all the negativity over the last few years with declining attendance and ticket sales and a lot of doubt surrounding the program, Keith Carter made some big decisions to make us relevant again. As a senior, I am glad to see the program trending upwards compared to when I first enrolled. #LaneTrain”
Zach Hopper (Senior, Marketing)
It’s obvious the students are just as excited as the rest of the fan base. So hop on board the Lane Train now, or get run over.