Coach Kiffin now on the all-time hero’s list

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, April 24, 2024

By Steve Stricker

When my dad died at the way too young age of 54, I had just graduated from high school, was the summer before my freshman year in college, and was devastated.  Needing a strong male image to guide me, Dr. Mark Scully, hero, daddy’s best friend and president of Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) tucked me under his stern wing and with tough (soft) love helped me (along with God) navigate those tumultuous college years to graduation.

Finally squeaking out of SEMO, immediately drafted by Uncle Sam, and a year later was in hot (from danger) Vietnam…July 1969 to July 1970.  Teamed with Major Joe Cabrina, hero, a big, square-jawed great guy, he was just the man I needed to carry on that strong male image.  I can see and hear him now, jungle fatigues, huge smile, with his ever present .45 automatic pistol, black holster strapped around his broad shoulders as I picked him up in our Jeep at the Tan San Nhut Airbase in Saigon, or wherever, laughing and yelling out, “Striker!!!!”

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Thankfully home, at every unforeseen twist and turn of life, God provided just the individuals I needed, to guide me.  Some were nuns, priests, Ole Miss awesome custodians, editors, mechanics, photographers, saints, mother’s housekeeper, parts professionals, columnists, artists, students, university chancellor, administrator, president, TV announcers, AT&T techs, Game Warden, ex-girlfriends, fiancés dad, mum, brothers, co-workers, publisher, fraternity brothers, teachers, friend friends, barbers, news anchor, Kroger, ACE friends, strangers, a son, sister, cousin, church friends, Vietnam Army buddy, medical professionals, animals, cat Jag, Vets, Popes, coaches, coach wives, most especially guys freely willing to help me with mechanical issues. 

It didn’t really matter to me how successful they were in life or on the field or if I knew them personally; it was their day-to-day relationship with God and others that mattered to me.

Enter 2021 and our new Ole Miss Head Football Coach, Lane Kiffin.  Although a very successful flamboyant coach, Kiffin had never been at one school longer than a couple of years and many only one.  However, I liked him immediately, went straight on my hero radar, thought he was a perfect fit for Ole Miss, Oxford, but kept waiting for him to leave.  

Well, he kept winning as expected and hanging around.  Began to date a beautiful young lady whose family attends St. John’s as do I and continued to win.  Having never met him in person, he also continued to gain my admiration by the way he handled himself with other coaches and all situations with class.  

Then Saturday, April 13, after the most successful recruiting season ever, was the annual Ole Miss Grove Bowl used to introduce all these new Rebels to the Rebel faithful.  But Kiffin upset the normal as he is delightfully known to do by going with Flag Football, no pads or helmets, athletic contests amongst players, a hot dog eating thingy, and off the charts fun where we could see the players in shorts and ball caps!  SEC announcers Tom Hart and hero Jordan Rodgers, ex Vanderbilt quarterback, loved it as did all of us.  Next season other coaches will copy this creative approach…just watch.

That did it, Lane propelled himself onto my all-time Heroes List, like Head Baseball Coach Mike Bianco who brings nothing but positive notoriety to Ole Miss and Oxford, and perhaps more important to me, another strong hero male to help glide me through these shark-infested waters of life.  

Well done, and welcome home, Coach Lane, hope to meet you in person one day.  Please don’t leave us.  

You seem to have found your home in life with Ole Miss, Oxford, and we love you!

Steve is an Oxford resident and received his Ph.D. in Educational Psychology (Counseling) from Ole Miss.