OXFORD • Ole Miss athletics director Keith Carter announced a new contract for football coach Lane Kiffin on the morning of the Outback Bowl.
Carter was motivated by the progress he’d already seen, not to mention the progress to come hours later when the Rebels knocked off then-No. 7 Indiana 26-20.
The move came after Ole Miss had survived a round of “Keep the Coach,” with Kiffin’s name associated with the vacancy at Auburn a couple of weeks before.
By the time Kiffin’s new deal was announced Auburn had hired Boise State coach Bryan Harsin.
Carter was moving on a new Kiffin deal well before the end of the regular season. He thinks Ole Miss could soon be on the financial footing to survive more rounds of “Keep the Coach.”
“Here’s the deal. Coach is going to win. Coach Kiffin’s going to win. We’re going to win a lot of games, and when that happens you’re going to have people coming in trying to poach your coach,” Carter said. “I look at that as it’s kind of flattering that they would want to come in and talk about our program and try to take a coach that’s done great things here at Ole Miss.”
Contracts for state employees are set at a four-year maximum by state law.
Carter has chosen not to release the financial details of Kiffin’s new contract during a time of COVID-19 belt-tightening when many employees – including Kiffin and himself – have taken pay cuts since the pandemic shutdown.
“We felt like coach Kiffin certainly deserved an opportunity to grow his contract and his salary, and that’s what we did. For us, we wanted to show him that we wanted to support him, and we wanted to support the program. What we were able to do certainly made him more competitive in our league,” Carter said.
Ole Miss hired Kiffin on Dec. 7, 2019, making him a Power Five conference head coach for the first time since he was fired at Southern Cal early during the 2013 season. He came to Ole Miss after three seasons at Florida Atlantic and after serving as Alabama’s offensive coordinator before that.
Ole Miss paid Kiffin $3.9 million for the 2020 season.
“We kind of got a little bit of a discount I guess in Year 1,” Carter said.
Days following the announcement of the Kiffin extension Ole Miss announced a new contract for offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby.
It’s not a stretch to speculate that any pay increase for Kiffin would put him at $4.5 million or beyond.
Kiffin’s original contract was set with annual $100,000 increases which would have capped him at $4.2 million in 2023, its final year.
The contract was also heavy with incentives. Kiffin received $100,000 when the Rebels reached the Outback Bowl.
When Ole Miss fumbled deep in LSU territory on a potential game-winning drive it cost Kiffin $150,000. He was due that sum for every SEC win beginning at No. 5.
Sources tell the Daily Journal that Kiffin was not involved in talks with Auburn. Had Auburn hired Kiffin it would not have been the first time for Auburn to hire a sitting Ole Miss head football coach. Tommy Tuberville jumped from Ole Miss to Auburn in 1998.
Things have changed since then. There are more financial resources – most notably an SEC revenue-sharing check that averaged $44.6 million per member school in 2018-19, the most recent data – bigger stadiums, more television opportunities.
Ole Miss has had the unfortunate timing of an NCAA case and a couple of down seasons followed immediately by a pandemic. Carter, though, believes a time is not far off that Ole Miss will be able to compete for coaches – at least in terms of salary – with college football’s biggest jobs.
“You look at what Texas just did with their coach, and you average that out over six years. I think we can be competitive with some of these bigger schools,” he said.
The contract for new Texas coach Steve Sarkisian has been reported at slightly more than $30 million for six years.
Some coaches move for reasons more than salary.
Carter did not disclose the new contract’s buyout figure, but he said he’s “100 percent” confident it protects Ole Miss.
Carter says Kiffin’s new contract is a win-win.
“It’s something that I think was important. He showed he’s bought in as well. Both sides feel really good about where we are,” Carter said. “The future is bright. We’re excited, and I know he feels the same way.”