So here comes a college football coaching marriage the sport needed — a sure-to-entertain, likely-to-infuriate (especially the SEC commissioner) and perhaps even destined-to-succeed partnership between Ole Miss and Lane Kiffin.
Yes, that Lane Kiffin. And, yes, that Ole Miss.
The Rebels are hiring the Rebel, bringing the Lane Train back to the SEC and giving its program a shot at not just wins, but relevance. On the flipside, Kiffin gets another crack at the big time to show his talent might finally outweigh his antics, which could be toned down but are unlikely to disappear.
If nothing else ... this promises to be something else.
Kiffin is just 44, and if this was merely Ole Miss hiring the son of longtime NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, and who became an assistant under Nick Saban at Alabama and then led Florida Atlantic to a second Conference USA title game in three seasons, it would hardly register.
It would just look like a traditional, up-the-coaching-ladder, potentially smart move.
This is Kiffin, though, college football’s coaching provocateur, who is now, despite his relatively tender age, on his fifth head coaching stop: Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Vols, USC Trojans, FAU and now the Grove in Oxford.
Other than FAU, none ended well. Same with that offensive coordinator run at Bama, where Kiffin, having already agreed to take over the FAU program, was supposed to finish out the 2016-17 playoffs calling plays for the Tide. Instead, an exasperated Saban dumped Kiffin in between the semifinals and title game (which Alabama then lost).
That one was something out of the Ice Cube movie “Friday,” Kiffin not so much getting fired on his day off as getting fired from a job he’d somehow already quit.
That’s what you get from him, and for Ole Miss, that should be part of the excitement. Kiffin is a standout personality and a lot of fun to watch. What the Rebels need right now, perhaps as much as wins, is some fire to make them relevant.
Will Kiffin wind up feuding with rival coaches, driving administrators crazy and tweeting ridiculous things on social media?
In October, supposedly deep into his now “mature” second/third/fourth/fifth act, he took to Twitter after FAU got called for nine penalties in a loss. He sent out an image of three blind referees and tagged the Conference USA office. He got fined $5,000. FAU fans loved it.
Look, Ole Miss can handle things like that. This is a program with immense potential that has spent too many years languishing. Hugh Freeze got them into the national discussion, and many Rebel fans just want to swing for the fences again. Ole Miss can be great, but in an SEC West where other schools have more money, more tradition and more resources, it has to go big to get there.
If things get a little ragged at times, oh well. Ole Miss has lost its past two coaches after the numbers for an escort service wound up on a university-issued phone and a player celebrated a critical Egg Bowl touchdown by mimicking a dog peeing in the end zone.
So, no one is showing up here without some battle scars.
This is a charismatic, if occasional trainwreck, middle-age couple getting read unplanned, late-night nuptials (a third time for each) by an Elvis-clad officiant just off the Vegas strip. Yet, when word gets back to their stunned family and friends, everyone kind of nods and wonders if it might just actually deliver them forever bliss.
Kiffin is apparently too intoxicating of a talent for athletic directors (and at least one NFL owner) to resist. There is no question he can run an offense, drum up interest from recruits and build a team of like-minded swagger.
Al Davis hired him to coach the Raiders at age 31. They feuded non-stop before Kiffin was canned after going 5-15.
Tennessee thought he’d resurrect the program, but he left after a single year, prompting fans to set fire to team gear and propose they name a local sewage treatment plant after him. At USC, he was saddled by investigations and sanctions from the Pete Carroll regime. Eventually, after a bad loss at Arizona State, he was dragged off the team plane and fired on the tarmac.
Saban hired him, and Kiffin helped revolutionize a Tide program that once skewed heavily to defense. He did his job, but it didn’t end well there, either.
Along the way, there have been plenty of Lane moments.
The time at Tennessee he told then-recruit Alshon Jeffery if he went to South Carolina he’d wind up pumping gas. (The Gamecock alum is in his eighth NFL season.) Or the time when he accused Urban Meyer’s Florida program of violations. (Kiffin didn’t understand the rule.) Or the time Tennessee hostesses showed up at a high school game of a top recruit. Or the time USC was accused of deflating footballs (before the Patriots saga made it famous — which shows Kiffin has always been ahead of his time).
Or the time … well, there’s been a lot of times.
And now there will be times at Ole Miss. It could be good, it could be bad, it could end with bonfires and jokes.
It also might end with a lot of wins.
At least it’ll never be dull. All eyes on Kiffin and the Rebels. Here’s wishing these two kids all the best.
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