What Randy Clements' exit means for Ole Miss football, and who might Lane Kiffin target? | Roundtable
Lane Kiffin made the unusual move to send the assistant coaching carousel into motion in April by parting with Ole Miss offensive line coach Randy Clements, as confirmed by the school on Tuesday.
Clements joined Kiffin's staff ahead of the 2020 season. His past stops included Florida State, Houston and Baylor. Ole Miss led the SEC in rushing yards per game last season and ranked fourth in sacks allowed.
Here's an examination of what this staff move might mean for Ole Miss.
Blake Toppmeyer: If you would've asked me what adjustments Kiffin would make coming out of the spring game, I wouldn't have guessed parting with his offensive line coach would be among them. A staff move at this point in the calendar is bizarre, especially at a position that performed pretty well last season.
I didn't think the offensive line had its best showing during the spring game, surrendering too much pressure on the quarterbacks, but surely you don't fire a guy based off a spring game. What am I missing?
Nick Suss: Yeah, the timing is bizarre. But you know as well as I do that coaches usually get fired in December for on-field performance issues. Late-calendar coaching changes tend to happen for other reasons. One that comes to mind? Recruiting.
Clements is a Texas guy who has deep connections in the Lone Star State. But offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby is also a Texas guy who coached for years with Clements at Baylor. And this offseason's three new hires all have ties to Texas. Tight ends coach John David Baker played at Abilene Christian and cut his teeth coaching at North Texas. Defensive line coach Randall Joyner played and coached at SMU. And special teams coach Coleman Hutzler came to Ole Miss after a year coaching at Texas.
At this point, the staff is loaded with people capable of recruiting Texans.
Combine that with the fact that Ole Miss signed eight offensive linemen in the last two recruiting classes and only one even looks poised to compete for a starting job in 2021, and it might be more productive to consider recruiting than on-field production as to why Ole Miss made this move.
Toppmeyer: In examining Clements' recruiting track record, 247Sports credits him with being the primary recruiter of one four-star prospect who signed with the team for which Clements coached. That was wide receiver Kendall Wright, who signed with Baylor while Clements was there.
Clements was the primary recruiter, according to 247, of a trio of three-star offensive linemen who signed with Ole Miss in its 2021 class: Jayden Williams, Erick Cade and Micah Pettus.
I think head coaches should prioritize player development skills when building a staff, but Kiffin also must increase the talent level throughout the program, so upping the bar for recruiting is paramount.
Early returns have been promising, with Ole Miss ranking sixth in the SEC and 17th nationally for its 2021 recruiting class in the 247Sports Composite.
Would Kiffin's staff benefit from an assistant coach with inroads in a certain area of the recruiting map?
Suss: I think there are two ways to look at that. On one hand, Ole Miss built such a strong recruiting class last year by going outside its recruiting footprint and bringing in players like defensive back Tysheem Johnson from Philadelphia and defensive tackle Tywone Malone from New Jersey. There's value in being the SEC team that brings in recruits from outside the SEC footprint, so maybe developing relationships in California or Ohio or Washington D.C. could be beneficial.
On the flip side, there's a reason SEC teams succeed by mining talent from the league's footprint. So, adding a coach with expertise in Louisiana, Georgia or Alabama to go along with the staff's plethora of experience recruiting Texas, Florida and Mississippi could be just as beneficial and maybe allow Ole Miss to start poaching talent from its rivals.
Toppmeyer: Coaches tend to hire guys with whom they have a connection. Lebby was the connection with Clements.
Jeff Norrid is an offensive line coach from Kiffin's Rolodex. He joined Kiffin's staff at Florida Atlantic in 2018 as an analyst before becoming his offensive line coach in 2019. Norrid moved on to become Louisiana's O-line coach in February. Kiffin and Norrid previously worked together at Alabama, where Norrid was an analyst while Kiffin was offensive coordinator. Norrid has never been an on-field assistant in the SEC, but, along with Alabama, he's had staff positions at Arkansas and Auburn.
Mario Cristobal was Alabama's offensive line coach while Kiffin was OC, so that's not an avenue to pursue. Cristobal is Oregon's head coach.
With spring practice finished, Kiffin can take his time with this hire, although it will be unusual for players to adjust to a new position coach who doesn't arrive until summer. What do you see as Kiffin's timeline for this hire?
Suss: I wouldn't be shocked if things move swiftly. Kiffin built his staff pretty quickly when he arrived in Oxford, and he filled in the vacant positions pretty quickly this December, too.
With the recruiting dead period finally begin lifted soon, it doesn't make sense to deprive yourself of a recruiter.
Norrid is a good thought. If Kiffin wants to take a bigger swing, based on connections, Florida offensive line coach Mike Summers worked with Kiffin at USC and co-defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin at Florida.
If Kiffin looks internally, former NFL offensive lineman Phil Loadholt is an Ole Miss analyst. He's the likeliest interim candidate, if the Rebels need one. All told, it would be surprising if this search exceeds a month.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Nick Suss is the Ole Miss beat writer for the Clarion Ledger.If you enjoy their coverage, consider a digital subscriptionthat will allow you access to all of it.