Lane Kiffin recounts hilarious time he got under Nick Saban’s skin, earning himself the nickname ‘P.J. Funnybunny’
OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin’s self-deprecating style of humor and ability to make fun of himself are part of what endears him to Rebel fans — that and the way he has completely turned the Ole Miss program around in four short years.
ESPN recently spoke with Coach Kiffin and a number of other members of the Nick Saban coaching tree, all former assistants under the legendary Alabama head coach who retired last month.
Kiffin has made no bones about how important Coach Saban is to him, helping revive Kiffin’s career when the coach felt he was at his lowest after being fired from USC.
Over the last four years, Kiffin has told us stories about his relationship with Coach Saban and some of the times he got under the GOAT’s (Greatest of All Time) skin.
Kiffin told ESPN a funny never-before-told story about one such time when he was Saban’s offensive coordinator, a spot he held from 2014-2016.
In the fall camp before the 2016 season began, the Tide was running drills where the starting offense went up against the starting defense, a “good-on-good” drill as its known.
Kiffin recounts that he been told not to ever make Saban’s defensive unit look bad. But Lane couldn’t resist having what was, to him, a little fun.
“I’d come from the Pete Carroll camp. I wasn’t wired that way, to let the defense win,” Kiffin explained.
Apparently, Kiffin and the offense let it all hang out that day.
“We had a really good day on offense, ran some reverses, threw a double pass and had all these touchdowns, and he said that all I was trying to do was win the drill and trick the defense and not help the team. I was like, ‘Isn’t that the point in good-on-good situations on offense, to see if you can move the ball?’”
Coach Saban was not amused.
“He was furious,” Kiffin recounted.
So Lane went to the other end of the spectrum for the next practice.
“Stubborn old Lane, I ran the most generic, basic, under-center offense I could, sort of their old-school offense they ran under Joe Pendry. And the defense killed us. We’d be third-and-8, and I’d have the quarterback under center.“
Lane Kiffin on a practice he ran as Bama OC
Needless to say, after that practice Coach Saban went to his OC for answers.
“‘I’m just running what I thought you would want me to run against the defense,'” Kiffin said. “Again, it was just me being smart-ass me.”
But then, Saban spent time being Saban. He insisted the other coaches leave the room so he could talk to Kiffin alone.
“I have to sit there, and he is screaming at me, standing over me screaming as I’m sitting in my chair,” Kiffin remembered.
“I thought he was going to fight me physically. So, yes, I got a lot of ass-chewings, but that’s the biggest one and one that no one saw. But I deserved it.”
Lane Kiffin on receiving Nick Saban’s wrath
And in one final note to this untold Saban story, Kiffin said Coach Saban compared his offensive coordinator to a children’s book character named P.J. Funnybunny — a loveable rabbit who wreaks havoc in the stories.
“He screamed at me that I was the bunny,” Kiffin said, “and we were like, ‘What the hell is that? There’s no way Coach has read a little kid’s bedtime story like that!’”
The Saban Coaching Tree
The members of the Saban coaching tree who were interviewed for the ESPN article include:
Mark Dantonio: Michigan State (1995-99)
Jimbo Fisher: LSU (2000-04)
Kirby Smart: LSU (2004), Miami Dolphins (2006), Alabama (2007-15)
Billy Napier: Alabama (2011, 2013-16)
Mario Cristobal: Alabama (2013-16)
Lane Kiffin: Alabama (2014-16)
Dan Lanning: Alabama (2015)
Steve Sarkisian: Alabama (2016, 2019-20)
Brent Key: Alabama (2016-18)
Mike Locksley: Alabama (2016-18)
Charles Huff: Alabama (2019-20)
There is little doubt how much respect Lane Kiffin has for Nick Saban as a person and as a coach. There’s also little doubt the influence the GOAT had on Kiffin and that it played at least some role in his success at Ole Miss. The Rebels won 11 football games in 2023 for the first time in program history.
Evelyn has covered sports for over two decades, beginning her journalism career as a sports writer for a newspaper in Austin, Texas. She attended Texas A&M and majored in English. Evelyn’s love for Ole Miss began when her daughter Katie attended the university on a volleyball scholarship. Evelyn created the Rebel Walk in 2013 and has served as publisher and managing editor since its inception.