Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin reacts after his defense stopped Texas A&M on a 4th down during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

Ole Miss has reportedly offered Lane Kiffin more than nine million bucks a year to remain at the school and coach its football team.

My question: Why?

Rick Cleveland

Kiffin’s team just finished its regular season Thanksgiving night, losing four of its last five games, including a 24-22 defeat to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.

In three seasons at Oxford, Kiffin now has a a 23-12 record overall. His teams have won 14, lost 11 SEC games.

For that, Ole Miss wants to reward Kiffin with $9 million-plus per annum, nearly $40 million over the next four years to keep him from taking the Auburn job. What’s more, Ole Miss has raised in excess of $10 million for Kiffin – or the next Rebel coach – to buy players in the transfer portal. Like the old saying goes, pretty soon we are going to be talking about some real money. 

Which brings to mind: What would John Vaught, winner of six Southeastern Conference championships at Ole Miss, be worth on today’s market? Is there that much money in Mississippi?

Interestingly, Kiffin has never stayed at a job – any job – for four seasons. If he were to coach half of the 2023 season at Ole Miss, that would be the longest tenure of his career. The Oakland Raiders fired him in his second season after he won 25 percent of his games. Then, after one season, he left Tennessee in the middle of the night, amid something close to a riot, after losing the Chick-fil-A Bowl  and finishing one game above .500. Next, Southern Cal fired him on an airport tarmac, returning from a road trip after the fifth game of his fourth season. He spent three seasons as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama, successfully revamping the Crimson Tide offense before taking head coach’s job at Florida Atlantic. He was supposed to coach the Bama offense through the national championship game that third season, but Saban decided, “Thanks, but no thanks. See ya.”

He spent three seasons at FAU before taking the Ole Miss job. At Ole Miss, he has gone 5-5, 10-3 and 8-4, while flirting with other jobs all the while. You could make the case – and many have – Kiffin’s current Rebels’ late season demise was at least partly caused by the distraction of Kiffin’s dalliance with Auburn.

One guy could have stopped that. Lane Kiffin. He did not. He could have signed the papers on the $9 million Ole Miss offer. He could have said, “I am going to finish the job at Ole Miss. I am going to be the first coach to take Ole Miss to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game. We are going to compete for the national championship.”

Instead, he left his employer and his players on the hook.

Here’s my take: Kiffin is a remarkable offensive football mind. He can take his offensive O’s and most times beat your defensive X’s. But as a head coach, his record is far from remarkable. Indeed, it is spotty and hardly worthy of him becoming one of the three or four highest paid coaches in the country.

When he took the job at Ole Miss, Kiffin said he had learned from his previous jobs. He projected himself as a more mature, more stable, more complete coach. 

Has he been that?

No. At 47, Kiffin appears the same guy, the same coach, he has always been. If he stays at Ole Miss, it’s likely the Rebels will endure the same situation next November.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.