Confirmed: Lane Kiffin will return as Ole Miss head coach
OXFORD, Miss. – It is official. Here are the words Ole Miss fans have been hoping to hear for a couple of weeks: head coach Lane Kiffin is staying at Ole Miss.
Finally, there is no more speculation from media pundits and message boards, no more innuendo being dissected to determine intent, and no more coach speak to be deciphered. The Rebel Walk has confirmed, per a source, Lane Kiffin will return to coach the Rebels for the 2023 season.
Kiffin’s new contract will be for at least eight years and will average around $9 million per year, according to Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger.
“I had a meeting with the team and the staff and told them I was staying and it would be announced after the game. I didn’t want it to be about me staying before the game, but about the team.”
Coach Lane Kiffin to ESPN’s Chris Low
While the state of Mississippi doesn’t allow public employees to engage in contracts of more than four years, reports are Kiffin’s deal is being run through the Rebels’ private foundation.
After weeks of media pundits giving their opinions, on Saturday it was announced Kiffin has decided to not accept the Auburn job – if it had in fact been offered – and will return to coach the Rebels in 2023.
— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) November 26, 2022
In three seasons at Ole Miss, Kiffin is 23-11 and is about to take the Rebels to their third bowl game.
Now, Auburn appears to be turning to former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze to replace the fired Bryan Harsin and interim coach Carnell Williams. Freeze is currently the head coach at Liberty. As always, however, things could change quickly, and we will keep you updated on the Tigers’ plans.
One thing is for sure. It appears Kiffin’s family had a lot of influence in his decision. His daughter, Landry, is currently a senior at Oxford High School and plans to enroll at Ole Miss for her freshman year next fall. Lane’s son Knox, quickly becoming a fan favorite in Oxford, is set to attend ninth grade there next fall.
Reasons to stay
Many outside of Oxford — especially those in Tiger Nation — are wondering why Kiffin would spurn Auburn’s offer. Why would he stay in north Mississippi?
There are several compelling reasons for his decision.
People keep talking about what Kiffin built at Ole Miss. No, it is what he is building at Ole Miss.
The Rebels have a number of talented players returning next season including quarterback Jaxson Dart, running back Quinshon Judkins and all-around athlete JJ Pegues. It would be hard to leave all of that talent in the cupboard for a new coach to enjoy.
Ole Miss is a tremendous recruiting tool in and of itself. As former All-American Senquez Golson once said, “If you don’t want to go to Ole Miss, don’t take a visit to Oxford.”
Ole Miss looks like what a college looks like in a brochure. Oxford is one of the top college towns in America. Not only does the campus and town appeal to high school recruits, just last year it and Kiffin attracted transfers from Southern Cal, TCU, SMU, Auburn, Central Michigan, Western Kentucky, Louisville and Mississippi State. It would have been difficult for Kiffin to leave Oxford or Ole Miss.
Ole Miss has a loyal fan base. Kiffin implored the fans to pack the stadium beginning with the Kentucky game and they did. Even on a rainy Thanksgiving night in Oxford, Kiffin asked fans to leave The Grove early in time to pack the stands 30 minutes prior to kickoff against Mississippi State. They did.
The fans also showed their support in another huge way.
On Tuesday, the Grove Collective, the central NIL entity for Ole Miss, reported surpassing its revenue goals for 2023 of over $10 million in NIL funds raised for football — far exceeding what had been reported by national media in their various narratives that Auburn had far more NIL money than Ole Miss.
Thank You Rebel Nation! We have surpassed our 2023 revenue goal of 10+m dollars in NIL funding for our student athletes. This would not have been possible without your support, trust and generosity to the Grove Collective. We are LOYAL Rebels and have proved that, regardless…
— The Grove Collective (@grovecollectnil) November 23, 2022
Contrary to much of the national narrative, there is money in Oxford.
Reasons NOT to head to the Plains
Still, other folks, especially the ones in Auburn, are wondering how Kiffin could pass on an offer to coach on the Plains? There are more than a few reasons the job with the Tigers would be less than appealing to some candidates.
First, the biggest turnoff for Kiffin at Auburn might be the boosters. Auburn boosters have famously micromanaged that program. It is a reason more than one successful coach there has not lasted.
Kiffin knows about being micromanaged. His first head coaching job was with the Oakland Raiders. With the exception of Jerry Jones in Dallas, Oakland owner Al Davis may have been the biggest micromanager in the history of the NFL. That did not work out well and Kiffin does not want to repeat that mistake.
Secondly, there is not much of a future once Auburn is done with a coach and those tenures do not last long. The last coach who left Auburn and coached at a “big time” school was John Heisman. Heisman – yes, the one for which the trophy is named – coached at Auburn for five years and left in 1899 to take the Clemson job. He also coached at Georgia Tech and Rice.
Since Pat Dye left before an NCAA investigation would have forced him out, full time Auburn coaches have a record of 245-123-1. Those coaches won nine SEC West titles, nine conference championships, played for two national championships and won one. Not one of those coaches survived long at Auburn.
Tommy Tuberville is the only former Auburn coach to become a head coach at a Power Five school in that time and he only lasted three seasons at Texas Tech. Auburn seems to taint a coach’s reputation once he takes that job.
Auburn is not that popular of a transfer portal destination. Sure, the Tigers got quarterbacks to come in from Texas A&M and LSU, but neither had much success. And remember two former Auburn players – Pegues and Ladarius Tennison – left Auburn for Ole Miss and each has found success.
Next, Auburn projects a superiority complex when it comes to thinking it can attract any coach or recruit it wants. In reality, Auburn has an inferiority complex in the state when it comes to its in-state rival. Since the arrival of Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide is the dominant team in the state and Auburn has a big hill to climb to dethrone him.
Finally, Auburn’s fan base can tend to be volatile, at least it has been in the past. Just ask former coaches and their families how they were treated when the Tigers did not have a good season. No matter how many commas are in a coach’s contract, his and his families’ happiness is more important.
So Kiffin is staying at Ole Miss – a school that beat Auburn this season – and looking at the returning roster, the commitment of the athletic administration and the fans along with the city of Oxford and the university itself, Kiffin’s decision to stay may have been easier than most people thought.
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.