OXFORD • Monday was a celebration for Ole Miss football, and Lane Kiffin said he wouldn’t talk about other schools.
He wouldn’t talk about Arkansas, from whom he may have had an offer to become head coach, nor would he talk about other schools that may have contacted him to gauge his interest in joining their cause.
It was not that day.
Kiffin spoke for about nine minutes to an estimated crowd of 4,000 Ole Miss fans who began packing the east side of The Pavilion about an hour and a half before the 1 p.m. start of his formal introduction.
It was the exclamation point on speculation that began after former coach Matt Luke was fired on Dec. 1, grew during the quick but efficient coaching search promised by new athletics director Keith Carter, and became official in a school news release Saturday afternoon.
Kiffin’s four-year contract is worth $16.2 million total, $3.9 million for 2020.
It’s heavy with incentives from $150,000 for the fifth SEC win each season to $1,000,000 for winning the national championship and various bullet points that hit other bowl games, academic success and more.
It also calls for $5.3 million to hire 10 assistant coaches and $2.2 million for strength and conditioning coaches and other administrative staff.
Kiffin joins Ole Miss from Florida Atlantic where he went 26-13 in three seasons with two Conference USA championships.
He becomes the fifth Ole Miss head coach since the end of the Ed Orgeron tenure in 2007.
Carter’s courtship began with a phone call to Kiffin on Wednesday followed by a 2 1/2 to 3-hour meeting on Thursday.
“After I left that meeting I felt very comfortable that we were going to align on a lot of things,” Carter said, “and we were able to get it done.”
Wearing a borrowed navy suit after a busy week that included a 49-6 C-USA championship win over UAB, Kiffin told Ole Miss fans he would build a program “built on old-school principles with a new-way mindset.”
Whatever he said, fans cheered.
It wasn’t long before Kiffin decided talking about other schools was important after all.
He mentioned his time as head coach at Southern Cal, and how that job ended in part because of his lack of focus on all the players on his roster, not just stars with NFL potential.
More than once Kiffin, talked about the importance of developing players on the roster from top to bottom.
He talked about lessons learned at Tennessee and at length about his three years as offensive coordinator for Nick Saban at Alabama.
“Going to work with coach was great from X’s and O’s and all that stuff, but really how he manages the program from top to bottom,” he said. “Before I was really the offensive coordinator being a head coach, developing players and getting them to the NFL, getting a lot of players drafted. Then I really kind of changed and realized there’s more to it than this. That’s not my calling. God’s calling for me wasn’t to just get guys drafted and make a bunch of money.”
Kiffin said he’s different since the USC job in the way he values relationships with players.
He talked about those relationships with players at FAU, helping players who had never won before experience winning, and what that meant to him.
Boca Raton, that drew fewer than 15,000 fans as C-USA championship game host on Saturday, was a place Kiffin wouldn’t leave for just any job.
“It had to be a place that I really felt things were aligned in order to be some place that you can really win,” he said.
Kiffin believes those things are in place at Ole Miss mostly because what he witnessed in three seasons at Alabama – losses to the Rebels in 2014 and 2015 and a narrow 48-43 Crimson Tide victory in 2016.
“I remember losing here (with) Alabama. We lost two regular-season games in three years both to the same team. My brother Chris was here, and I also spent part of a summer here with the family. I’m at Chris’ house and went around and saw areas and the people and said, ‘That’s a special place. That’s a really neat place to live, and you can win there.’”