Rebels All In for Sugar Bowl
OXFORD, Miss. – He might be the head coach at Mississippi State, but Mike Leach is probably secretly a fan of Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral – or at least Corral’s commitment to his team.
Even though Corral led the Rebels to a 31-21 win over State in the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving, Leach appears to be in favor of the quarterback’s decision to play in the Sugar Bowl instead of opting out to prepare for the NFL Draft in April.
Leach said recently opting out of a bowl game is “one of the biggest absurdities that I’ve seen.”
Never the one not to speak his mind, Leach expounded on his view.
“You’ve got an obligation to the place that helped build and develop you and finish it out in the bowl,” Leach told Sports Illustrated. “That’s part of it. You owe it to your team, you owe it to your fans, you owe it to your coaches and it’s the most bizarre thing in the world to me.
“Somebody says, ‘Well, I can’t play one more game.’ They think they’re going to have a storied 10-year NFL career, and then they can’t play one more college game,” he added. “Well, that’s ridiculous. I mean, guys will go to the NFL, they’ll make the Pro Bowl and then they’ll play in the Pro Bowl. It’s one of the biggest absurdities that I’ve seen, and it’s selfish, too.”
Mike Leach told reporters today his thoughts on players opting out of bowl games: "They think they're gonna have a storied, 10-year NFL career. Then they can't play one more college game. Well, that's ridiculous… It's one of the biggest absurdities that I've seen."
— Stefan Krajisnik (@skrajisnik3) December 11, 2021
Just up the road in Oxford, coach Lane Kiffin has not had that problem.
“We’ve had zero (players opting out of the New Year’s Day game.),” Kiffin said.
“I would assume you won’t have any based off of people practicing today. I think that says a lot about this team and these guys and how serious this is, how important it is. You get to go play in the Sugar Bowl with a chance to win the Sugar Bowl and win more games than has ever been done in the history of this school. That’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of.”
Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin on opt outs
Ole Miss finished the regular season in second place in the Southeastern Conference’s western division with a 10-2 record. It was the first time in school history the Rebels have won ten games in the regular season, and a win over Baylor in New Orleans would give Ole Miss the most wins in a season ever.
Corral made it clear he never even considered opting out of the Rebels’ postseason play.
“It never crossed my mind. Two weeks before Thanksgiving I had a couple of people, leadership here, ask me (about opting out). It was kind of a curveball because I never even put any thought into it and I didn’t think I was not going to play…I definitely would not be in this position if it wasn’t for them (teammates).
I’m not just going to leave just because. Yeah, I know what is on the other side and what’s ahead (NFL Draft). God’s got me; I’m not worried about a negative part. If that (injury) does happen, shoot… it wasn’t meant to be. That’s just how I live my life and go about it. I’m going to give these guys everything I’ve got until it’s over.“
Matt Corral on not opting-out
It is a bonus for the Rebels that offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby will coach in the Caesar’s Superdome. Lebby was recently hired to be the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma.
“He’ll (Lebby) coach the game,” Kiffin said.
“We’re happy for him going back to his alma mater. Great opportunity for him. He’s done an unbelievable job here. He’s going to finish this thing off, which is awesome. It’s basically this team, like we’ve talked about, no matter what it takes. You aren’t seeing players opt out. It’s a special team and he’s a huge part of that.”
Coach Kiffin on OC Jeff Lebby
Kiffin described how Lebby is handling duties for both schools.
“He’s doing work there; he’ll be back later this week,” the Rebels’ head coach explained. “We respect dual scheduling with him so he can get that job and do this too. Usually it’s a head coach, like being at Alabama when you get a head job or something, but we’re doing it with a coordinator.”
Coach Kiffin found himself in the same situation not too long ago. He was the offensive coordinator at Alabama when he accepted the head coaching position at Florida Atlantic. The Crimson Tide was about to compete in the College Football Playoff and Kiffin coached Bama’s win in the semifinals.
But Alabama then decided to let Kiffin go to Boca Raton prior to the championship game — where the Tide lost to Clemson.
While some were surprised Lebby would coach the Rebels instead of heading on to start his Oklahoma tenure, Corral knew he would see his offensive coordinator in the game.
“I don’t think that was like a question whether he was going to finish. I knew, we both knew,” Corral said. “He told me, but no, it’s big (to have Lebby coach the Sugar Bowl). It’s big for me just to know it’s his last one with me and us here.”
Sugar Bowl info
The Allstate Sugar Bowl will be broadcast by ESPN at 7:45 p.m. on New Year’s night.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)
Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers.
He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio.
A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series.
Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time.
He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk.
Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.