Keith Carter delivered on his promise – now, it’s Lane Kiffin’s turn
When Keith Carter announced the firing of Matt Luke, he said he wanted to find a head coach that could walk into a room and “absolutely” take over that room.
The newly-hired athletics director acknowledged the apathy that had taken over the Ole Miss fan base in recent years: the mediocre results, the mediocre play on the field, failing to reach the potential some felt was possible with the 2019 version of the Rebels’ roster.
It all boiled over, and Carter decided to do something about it.
Going from saying Luke was the future of the program on Nov. 22 to firing the life-long Rebel 10 days later was a bold move that Carter knew had to be made in an attempt to bring back and unite what had become a splintered fan base.
Two days after Luke’s dismissal, the groundswell began across social media with the rumblings of Lane Kiffin, Mike Norvell and others being a part of Carter’s very short list of candidates.
With the early signing period beginning on Dec. 18, Carter wanted to move quickly to get a new head coach in place.
Move quickly he did, and by last Friday night, the apathy that had run rampant through the Ole Miss fan base was nearly nonexistent on social media.
Kiffin was the primary target, and Carter was going to get his man. Twenty-four hours later, he did.
The splash hire was made, and the coach many fans were wanting was finally putting on the red and blue. The All-American Rebel basketball player-turned fundraiser-turned Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics made good on his promise, and brought excitement back to the football program.
Now, it is Kiffin’s turn to carry the bucket and keep the excitement and momentum going for another nine months until the Rebels face Baylor in Houston to kick off the 2020 season.
This will be the biggest challenge of Kiffin’s career. He is coming off three seasons at Florida Atlantic University, where the team reached success never achieved in Boca Raton, Fla.
Kiffin seems ready, exuding confidence during his introductory press conference inside the Pavilion on Monday. But, it is his past that he is going to have to overcome to prove the naysayers – and there are some – who feel this was not the best hire in the long term for Ole Miss.
When Kiffin was at other Power 5 schools, including Southern California and Tennessee, those stints were not successful to say the least.
When USC decided to move on from Kiffin, he was fired on the LAX tarmac in the middle of the night by athletics director Pat Haden. When the Volunteers decided to move on, a group of lawyers wanted to have a Knoxville sewage center named after Kiffin.
The track record is there, but Kiffin knows it. He acknowledges it and seemingly embraces it. Any and all questions regarding his past during the press conference were welcomed with “That’s a fair question” by Kiffin before answering it.
With the self-awareness seemingly there, along with a stint as an assistant coach under Nick Saban at Alabama for three years before going to FAU, the hiring of Kiffin comes with the possibility of him turning a reverse Ed Orgeron with his career.
Orgeron, the head coach of the No. 1 LSU Tigers, was once the head coach at Ole Miss from 2005 to 2007. “Coach O” left Oxford with a 10-25 record. Since then, he has had stints with the New Orleans Saints and Tennessee before returning to USC as head coach and then eventually LSU.
There is the chance that Kiffin, who has taken his lumps elsewhere and seemingly grown as a coach, could do at Ole Miss what Orgeron is now doing at LSU, which is thriving and leading a national program to the College Football Playoffs.
Now before any of that can happen, the horse has to pull the cart, and Kiffin has much work to do to get the Rebels back to where they were when they hoisted the Sugar Bowl trophy in the air in 2016.
The challenges are there, the stigma of his coaching past is there, but Kiffin is unafraid of them.
He is going to have to be if he wants to achieve the goals he has in mind while in Oxford. Time will tell.
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