Monday, September 28, 2020

Cleveland: On Lane Kiffin Coming to Ole Miss

This column, which appears in newspapers across Mississippi, is usually written on Sunday for publication no sooner than Wednesday. The trick is to make sure what these fingers type three days ahead of publication is not obsolete by the time your eyes see it.

Sometimes, that’s easier said than done. Choosing a subject is half the task – if not more.

Take today’s column. There is so much subject matter to consider. Ole Miss has hired a new football coach, and a most mercurial chap he is. Mississippi State and Southern Miss are both going to bowl games announced Sunday. Six new state high school football champions were crowned over the weekend. The New Orleans Saints lost their most important football game of the season to date Sunday, dropping a 48 to 46 decision to the San Francisco 49ers in a game that had about as much defense as a Harlem Globetrotters basketball game.

There’s more, but that will do for starters.

Lane Kiffin was to be announced as the Rebels 39th football coach over 126 years at a press conference Monday. Simple mathematics tells us that the average tenure for an Ole Miss football coach has been 3.4 years, which would be much lower if not for John Vaught’s highly successful 24-year run.

Still, the average has been 3.4 years. So, if that’s the oddsmakers’ over-and-under, which way would you bet on Kiffin. History would indicate you would do well to bet the under.

Remarkably, his first head coaching job was with the Oakland Raiders and that lasted 1.25 seasons before he was fired, quite acrimoniously, by the legendary Al Davis. His next job was at Tennessee where he left, hastily, after just one 7-6 season for Southern Cal. At USC, he lasted 3.4 seasons before being fired in October, winning 28, losing 15 and going 17-12 in the Pac-12. After a subsequent three-year run as the offensive coordinator at Alabama, Kiffin moved to FAU, where he recently ended a three-season run with a 26-13 record and two Conference USA crowns.

So, again doing the math, Kiffin’s four head coaching jobs have lasted fewer than nine seasons, just over two years per job. He left behind NCAA issues at Tennessee and inherited NCAA issues at USC. At age 44, he has spent 22 years in coaching at nine different jobs (including USC twice).

Clearly, brand new Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter was looking for a high-profile hire and believes he has achieved one that will excite the Rebel fan base. Carter must believe Kiffin has matured and learned since that one season at Tennessee 10 years ago that Mississippi Today’s Marshall Ramsey, a proud Tennessee grad, so accurately described: “Kiffin’s tenure at UT was like burning plastic in a fireplace – there was plenty of heat and light but it left a greasy mess when it was over.”

Kiffin surely will say he has learned from all those past jobs, however brief they were. And who’s to say? We’ve seen Ed Orgeron fail miserably at Ole Miss in his first job as a head coach and then succeed wildly a decade later at LSU. It can happen. People learn.

Me? I still would bet the under.

•••

Both State and Southern Miss will get plenty of bonus practice time with their bowl bids. State, 6-6, will play Louisville, 7-5, in the Music City Bowl Dec. 30 at Nashville. It’s a rematch of the 2017 TaxSlayer Bowl, in which State beat Louisville 31-27. I’d make the Bulldogs a 7-point favorite over the Cardinals, who have been largely defense-less, giving up 34 points per game (111th in Division I).

Southern Miss, 7-5, and Tulane, 6-6, will renew an old, often interesting rivalry in the Jan. 4 Armed Forces Bowl at Fort Worth. The Golden Eagles lead the series 23-7, but the two haven’t played since USM defeated the Green Wave 46-30 at the Superdome in 2010. Tulane is a 6-point favorite as this is written, down from a 7.5 opening.

•••

Congrats to six newly crowned state champions, including many who have been there before. Nanih Waiya claimed its second straight Class 1A title. Taylorsville won its second 2A crown in three years. Jefferson Davis County won the 3A crown for the second time in three years, remarkably earning head coach Lance Mancuso his eighth state championship. Corinth easily claimed the 4A title. Perennial powerhouse West Point, surely the state’s most consistent football winner, won its straight championship in Class 5A, it’s 11th overall. And Oxford overcame a 21-3 halftime deficit to defeat Oak Grove 31-21 in perhaps the most exciting of the weekend’s championship games.


Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@mississippitoday.org) is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist.