There's a troubling Lane Kiffin stat that he'll have to squash if he wants to live up to that new mega-deal
When we learned that Lane Kiffin wasn’t leaving Ole Miss for Auburn, I had a thought that many probably shared.
Good for Ole Miss.
Good for Ole Miss that the guy who led the program to its best regular-season win total (10 in 2021) ever isn’t moving on for a bigger job after 3 seasons. There’s potential for Kiffin to be the best coach that Ole Miss has ever had, depending on how things come to an end. Considering the way things ended for Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss, it’s hard to give him that title, though the 2014-15 run led to arguably the program’s apex in the post-Archie Manning era.
So yes, good for Ole Miss that Kiffin is now a member of the $9 million club. Kiffin’s new contract even wiggled past the whole “contracts in Mississippi can only be a maximum of 4 years” thing by getting Ole Miss’ private foundation involved.
That’s all good for Ole Miss.
Not so good? Kiffin is entering Year 12 as an FBS head coach — 1 with Tennessee, 4 with USC, 3 with FAU, now 4 with Ole Miss — and his wins have aged worse than an avocado. The only time in which Kiffin beat a Power 5 team that went on to win 9 regular-season games was when he led USC to an upset of No. 4 Oregon in 2011.
And to be clear, it’s not like Kiffin has only had 5 or 6 opportunities. Here are each of his matchups against a Power 5 team that went on to win at least 9 games:
- 2009 at Florida: L 23-13
- 2009 vs. Alabama: L 12-10
- 2009 vs. Virginia Tech (Chick-fil-A Bowl): L 37-14
- 2010 at Stanford: L 37-35
- 2010 vs. Oregon: L 53-32
- 2011 vs. Stanford: L 56-48 (3OT)
- 2011 at Oregon: W 38-35
- 2012 at Stanford: L 21-14
- 2012 vs. Oregon: L 62-51
- 2012 at UCLA: L 38-28
- 2012 vs. Notre Dame: L 22-13
- 2013 at Arizona State: L 62-41
- 2017 at Wisconsin: L 31-14
- 2018 at Oklahoma: L 63-14
- 2019 at Ohio State: L 45-21
- 2020 vs. Alabama: L 63-48
- 2021 at Alabama: L 42-21
- 2021 vs. Baylor (Sugar Bowl): L 21-7
- 2022 at LSU: L 45-20
- 2022 vs. Alabama: L 30-24
That’s a 1-19 mark against Power 5 teams that went on to win at least 9 regular-season games (it’s still 1-15 even if you want to take away the 4 Alabama games for some weird reason).
For comparison’s sake, Billy Napier (vs. Utah) and Jimbo Fisher (vs. LSU) got 1 such victory amidst losing seasons this past year. Even Shane Beamer (Tennessee and Clemson) and Josh Heupel (LSU, Alabama, Clemson) both got multiple wins against Power 5 teams that won at least 9 games this past year. Mark Stoops has 3 such wins at Kentucky in the past 5 seasons.
That’s going to follow Kiffin, even if he’s done what Ole Miss could’ve hoped for as the guy to right the ship post-sanctions. It’s one thing to beat Kentucky when it’s ranked No. 7 in the country like it was this past year. But it’s another to beat a team that’s established as an elite foe late in the season. Shoot, even if Kiffin could beat a team early in the season that got significantly better down the stretch, it would still help him squash that ugly stat.
I mean, 1-19 at 4 schools isn’t a coincidence. It’s a trend. It’s also noteworthy that in nearly half of those games (9), his teams surrendered at least 42 points.
Consider that a nice way to say that Pete Golding’s presence will be magnified. Golding came from a place where in the 10 years before him, Alabama never had a defense rank outside of the top 7 in scoring. In Golding’s 5 years in Tuscaloosa, Alabama never cracked the top 7.
Of course, he didn’t come to Ole Miss to lead a top-7 defense. Ole Miss hasn’t had a top-50 defense since 2015. There’s a much lower bar for Golding to exceed, but at the same time, he was brought in to prevent some of these elite foes from running wild on Kiffin’s squad.
Even if we wanted to omit the FAU section of that 1-19 stat, Kiffin’s squads still surrendered 35 points in 10 of those 17 games. That has to turn around.
I don’t know that you can just pin that on the dynamics of Ole Miss, which watched both coordinators get poached by bigger programs a year ago. You at least can’t blame it on the lack of funds when you’re now a program paying a head coach $9 million annually.
That’s the challenge for Kiffin moving forward. And to be clear, this isn’t necessarily something that’ll impact his job status. That buyout is preventing him from going anywhere in the foreseeable future. But in terms of his approval rating within the fan base and his reputation nationally, it’ll be the “yeah, but” whenever someone praises his head coaching chops.
We know that Kiffin moves the needle, which helps with all things recruiting (high school and portal) and booster support. We know that even if he isn’t directly calling plays, Ole Miss’ offense is still in the hands of one of the best minds in the sport. If Kiffin loses his next 10 games against Power 5 foes who go on to win 9 regular season games, you can probably still say those things.
But now seems like as good a time as ever for Kiffin to get over the hump against some quality foes.
It wouldn’t be good for Ole Miss to have that contract age worse than an avocado.