OXFORD – If anyone can relate to Austin Peay head coach Scotty Walden’s being the youngest guy in a given coaching circle, it’s the leading man who will be on the opposing sidelines Saturday night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
At 31, Walden is the youngest head coach in Division I football. Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin has been there before, too.
Walden took over as the Governors’ head coach in November 2020 following the resignation of Mark Hudspeth that July. He coached the Governors during the spring 2021 season, going 4-2.
Walden was the interim head coach at Southern Miss for part of the 2020 season after Jay Hopson stepped down. Walden was previously the Golden Eagles’ co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach.
Walden’s timeline isn’t too different from that of Kiffin, who was the youngest coach in Division I (33) when Tennessee hired him in 2008. Prior to that, Kiffin coached the Oakland Raiders at just 31 years of age.
Walden has the confidence and swagger of a young man out to turn heads, no matter who lines up across the field from the Governors.
“I think it’s phenomenal for our kids to get to go play against the best in the country. That’s something that they’ll talk about the rest of their lives,” Walden said in an interview with ClarksvilleNow.com in January. “The outside world views that like, ‘OK, you’re going in there to take a loss.’ In this building, we will never go into a game, I don’t care if we’re playing the Dallas Cowboys or the Green Bay Packers, we’re never going to into a game thinking we’re going to lose a game. And that’s going to be our mindset. I don’t care if no one in the world gives us a chance. We’re going to be the only crazy dudes that think we’ve a chance.
“We’re going to go into those games to win them.”
A lot has happened for Kiffin in the last 13 or so years, but he can offer sage advice at this juncture in his career and life.
Kiffin was fired by the Raiders, then took the Tennessee job. He coached Tennessee for a season before leaving for the head coaching job at USC. He was fired by the Trojans after five games in his fourth season.
Kiffin then worked his way back up the ranks — he served as offensive coordinator at Alabama under legendary head coach Nick Saban before getting the head job at Florida Atlantic. After a successful three-year stint with the Owls where he went 27-13, Kiffin got another shot in major college football with the Rebels.
He’s taken his lumps along the way, but Kiffin finds himself in a far different place than he did in the late 2000s.
There is no substitute for life experience, Kiffin said, and that’s a lesson Walden can apply to any part of his life.
“The Raiders part was extremely challenging, as you have players that were older than you, you know, when you're dealing with NFL. But in general, I think you know, relying on people that have done it before and have a good staff around you. There's no recipe to create experience,” Kiffin said. “And I've learned that, that’s life. That's coaching, parenting, whatever your job is, you know? It just takes experience to go through things and learn how you’ll handle them.
“You can read, kind of channel what you remember, people you worked with when things come up. That's helpful. But a lot of times you have to go through it and figure it out on your own. So I would say just really utilizing peoples' opinions and people that have done it before.”