Sports Spectrum Weekly

Amid high hopes for Ole Miss football, coach Lane Kiffin is steadied by God

Coming off of a 10-3 record and an appearance in the Sugar Bowl a year ago, expectations are high for Year 3 under Ole Miss head football coach Lane Kiffin.

Prior to Kiffin’s arrival in December 2019, Ole Miss hadn’t produced a winning record since 2015 and had only two 10-win seasons since 1971. The 2021 campaign was the first time in program history that Ole Miss reached the 10-win mark before postseason play.

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Kiffin’s first order of business is replacing the production lost from last season’s team, most notably at the quarterback position with the departure of Matt Corral to the NFL draft.

Ole Miss ranked first in the SEC and sixth in the country in total offense with 492.5 yards gained per game, scoring more than 40 points in each of the team’s first four wins. In addition to Corral, Kiffin will have to find replacements for his top three receivers and top four rushers (including Corral) from a year ago, although his offensive line remains largely intact.

Ole Miss improved defensively as the 2021 season progressed, holding opponents to 21 points or less in the final five games of the season. All-American defensive end Sam Williams joined Corral in the NFL, but thanks to a nice mixture of returning players and transfers, Ole Miss appears to be the deepest it has been up front during Kiffin’s tenure. An experienced secondary should be the strength of the defense.

Kiffin’s strategy for replacing all his departed talent (11 starters) has been to scour the transfer portal for top-flight talent, and many experts agree that Ole Miss’ transfer class may be the best in the country. Kiffin has added QB Jaxson Dart, RB Zach Evans, WR Jordan Watkins, LB Troy Brown, DE Jared Ivey and safety Isheem Young to his roster for this fall.

It remains to be seen how all of the talented newcomers will adapt to new surroundings and a new coaching staff, but Ole Miss fans are dreaming big for the first time in a long time. The 2022 season is shaping up to be a make-or-break season for Kiffin in Oxford, but then again, every season is a make-or-break season in the pressure cooker that is SEC football. Can Kiffin continue his success?

He joined the Sports Spectrum Podcast in April to explain how he navigates such a high-stress job and how his faith keeps him grounded as the tide of public opinion rises and falls with the result of each game.

“[My faith] just really helps me when I’m in moments of where you’re so worried about what everybody’s thinking โ€” your wins, your losses, all this โ€” when I can remind myself, ‘OK, that’s really what I’m defined by. How am I being as a kid to the Lord, as His son?'” Kiffin said on the podcast. “I’m not great at it, but when I do that, that puts things in perspective for me a lot.”

Kiffin said his own ego drove a wedge between him and God early on in his career, describing coaching as an addiction. He was given the reigns of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders (now the Las Vegas Raiders) at just 31 years old before stints at big college football programs like Tennessee and USC. But his firing at USC and subsequent time as the head coach at Florida Atlantic (2017-19) humbled him and helped him to reconsider what life was all about.

Now, he sees the platform he’s been given as a head football coach in the SEC to shine a light on what Christ has done in his life.

“[My purpose now] is to help these guys, to really use my mistakes and the things that have happened to me … to really help them in these different situations,” he said.

Kiffin and his team will host Troy on Sept. 3 at 4 p.m. ET as his quest to replicate the success of last season begins, while at the same time honoring Christ.

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