‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me:’ The Bond Between Lane Kiffin and Matt Corral
OXFORD, Miss. – In college football, there are certain coaches associated with a certain quarterback. At Ole Miss, Archie Manning is remembered with Johnny Vaught, as is Eli Manning with David Cutcliff.
Former Florida coach Urban Meyer cannot be mentioned without referencing Tim Tebow. At Alabama, Bear Bryant and Joe Namath are linked forever.
The newest incarnation of this phenomenon is about to reach its conclusion.
New Year’s Day, Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin will coach his quarterback Matt Corral for the final time when the Rebels meet Baylor in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
“…He’s a special kid and (we have) a special relationship,” Kiffin said of Corral after Ole Miss defeated State on Thanksgiving.
“I just watched him go over to the band and the fans after the Egg Bowl and almost got emotional. And had to remind myself, got one more (game) with him. So that wasn’t the last one.”
The first meeting took place years before the pair joined forces in Oxford. Corral was a youngster when he attended Kiffin’s University of Southern California football camp. The connection between the two traveled two time zones to north Mississippi.
“But I don’t know exactly why the bond is what it is,” Kiffin said. “People have said it’s the California thing…or USC didn’t want either of us. They got rid of him and me both,” he said jokingly.
Corral has a theory on the relationship, and he shared it with ESPN’s GameDay earlier this season.
“We completely trust each other. There is no gray area and I think that’s what makes it so special.”
Matt Corral on his relationship with Coach Kiffin
Corral says he was somewhat of an immature kid when he arrived at Ole Miss. He eventually earned the starting quarterback position, but an injury and the emergence of John Rhys Plumlee left him on the bench. Some players would have tried to transfer to another school, but instead, Corral matured, worked hard, and stayed at Ole Miss, becoming the most valuable player of any team in the country.
He regained the starting position when Kiffin took over at Ole Miss in 2020, and in 2021 led the Rebels to the first 10-win regular season in school history. Not only did he lead the team on the field, but he has been a leader in all aspects of the program.
“I just love seeing how far he’s come,” Kiffin said.
“I love stories. Just had a recruit also ask, what do you like most about coaching? It’s when you see a transformation in a college kid, whether that’s him (Matt Corral) or (Ole Miss defensive end) Sam Williams. Just really neat to see that and be a part of it. He’s just such a great leader and such a great kid. Just really proud of him. And glad to be his coach.”
Lane Kiffin on Matt Corral
According to Corral, the pair is much more than coach-player. He considers Kiffin a friend.
— Lane Kiffin (@Lane_Kiffin) November 26, 2021
“Maybe coaches aren’t supposed to say this, but he’s probably right,” Kiffin said. “(He’s) like a friend.”
The chums will have one more game together. Corral has one more year of eligibility, but he is widely expected to be a first-round pick in April’s NFL Draft and will be leaving Ole Miss. The Sugar Bowl will be the swansong for the pair.
Although there is a lucrative pro career ahead, Corral never thought to abandon his teammates prior to the game against Baylor New Year’s evening.
“It never crossed my mind,” Corral said after the Rebels’ first bowl practice.
“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. When they asked me, I was like ‘a lot of people probably think I’m not going to play on the team.’ 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. God’s got me. I’m not worried about a negative part. If that does happen (injury), 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,” explained Corral.
The Sugar Bowl will be his last game as a Rebel, his last game with these teammates and his last game under Kiffin.
There is a certain serendipity in the relationship between this quarterback and coach. One that began thousands of miles away from Oxford, but one that will certainly continue in the future.
“We both had our ups and downs and somehow magically ended up here. We both firmly believe you know that this didn’t happen by chance.”
Matt Corral on his friendship with Coach Kiffin
Sugar Bowl Info
The Allstate Sugar Bowl kicks off at 7:45 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN.
(Feature image credit: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
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.