HOOVER, Ala. – Though it’s his second season leading the Rebels, it’s been 12 years since Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin last graced the corridors of the Hyatt Regency for SEC Media Days.
As the head coach at Tennessee in 2009, Kiffin made his debut appearance here. Due to COVID-19, there were no media days in his first season leading Ole Miss in 2020.
In 2021, Kiffin once again stepped to the podium in front of SEC reporters after more than a decade away. And he’ll be the first to admit a lot has changed since his lone season at Rocky Top.
Since then, he’s been the head coach at USC, an assistant at Alabama, the head coach at Florida Atlantic and now the man tasked with brining Ole Miss back to the promised land.
“It’s been a long 12 years. A lot of things have happened,” Kiffin said. “I’m trying to lose weight so I feel like the Tennessee guy … You’re just very different, obviously with 12 years, no matter what. You have a lot of experiences, being head coaches at now the third place since then, and in-between then getting to work for Nick Saban, arguably the greatest coach ever. I think I’m very different.”
After a 1-4 start, the Rebels won four of their last five games in 2020, including an Outback Bowl victory over No. 7 Indiana.
The Rebels’ strong finish largely came happened because of the golden right arm of junior quarterback Matt Corral, who led college football in total yards per game in 2020.
Corral is back, as are several key pieces for an offense that averaged 39.2 points per game, good for 14th nationally. Receiver Elijah Moore and tight end Kenny Yeboah are both in the NFL now, but expectations remain sky-high.
Kiffin will be the first to tell you, however, that expectations don’t mean much if you fail to back it up.
“I always go back to when we were preseason No.1 at USC as the head coach, and we didn’t have a very good year. We didn’t handle that very well. We kind of embraced that too much,” Kiffin said. “None of that means anything.”
If the Rebels are going to hit their lofty goals, the defense is going to have to carry its weight in 2021. Ole Miss allowed 38.3 points per game last season, good for 118th in college football.
Kiffin remains optimistic, however, as the unit didn’t have the benefit of spring practice last year. It really does make a difference, according to senior defensive back Jaylon Jones
“Everybody will see that this year, us having a spring, and the experience that we have going into this season, and this being the second year … I think everybody will see that this season.”