Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach are two of college football’s best-known names and personalities.
Twitter followers: 473,000 for Kiffin and 294,000 for Leach. In comparison, Matt Luke has 37,000 and Joe Moorhead 65,000.
Welcome to college football 2020, Mississippi style. Jump on the train or the ship, whichever you choose. But don’t miss this.
Ole Miss opens in Houston against Baylor on Labor Day weekend. Mississippi State hosts New Mexico in Starkville the same weekend. Probable attendance for both games has grown exponentially, a predictable result of the recent coaching hires.
Back in November 2014, Ole Miss and MSU were ranked among the nation’s top four teams in the first-ever college football playoff poll under the current format. The Bulldogs were No. 1 and the Rebels were No. 4. It was the high water mark for either program since Ole Miss was annually among the nation’s best teams in the 1950s and ‘60s.
The choices of Kiffin and Leach are proof that Ole Miss and Mississippi State can now make the type hires that in past years they might not have been able to make. Sure, Tommy Tuberville came to Ole Miss 25 years ago, but he was a virtual unknown and hadn’t been a college head coach. Same thing with Ed Orgeron 15 years ago.
Jackie Sherrill signed on with MSU 30 years ago after head coaching stops at Pitt and Texas A&M but likely wouldn’t have been considered at a lot of programs when he arrived in Starkville.
Many on both sides seem to agree the last few years have been some of the ugliest among fans the rivalry has experienced. It is possible that it’s only perceived that way since social media – Facebook, Twitter, etc. – allows fans to interact in whatever way they choose.
Years ago coffee shop talk and water cooler visits, family gatherings and Sunday church were about the only way fans could get after each other. Now, it can be all day every day due to the social media climate.
It’s a fierce rivalry that dates back almost 120 years. The Golden Egg trophy was added to the mix in the 1920s to somehow bring order and respect to the game, both on the field and in the stands. Much of MSU’s disdain for Ole Miss accumulated from 1947 through 1990. During that lengthy stretch, the Bulldogs defeated the Rebels only eight times. There are fans on both sides still attending games that experienced those years.
From an Ole Miss perspective, the rise of Bulldog football in the 21st century has forced Rebel fans to take notice and realize it’s not the same game each November it was when their fathers and grandfathers played in it or bought tickets for it.
The focus of Kiffin and Leach is on winning because that’s what they were hired to do. Administrators at each school believe the hires will mean less empty seats than it appeared would be the case for both programs in 2020 and beyond.
So as college football wraps up another season with the national title game, fans coast to coast are highly aware of the two SEC head coaches in Mississippi and the programs they now lead. Twitter follower numbers do not lie.
Jeff Roberson is a contributor to HottyToddy.com. He has written sports for three decades with most of that time spent at the Oxford Eagle daily newspaper and the Ole Miss Spirit magazine and website. He is the author of “Midnight Train,” the life story of former Ole Miss quarterback and Hall of Fame songwriter Jim Weatherly.