Why Lane Kiffin leaving Ole Miss football for Florida does (and doesn't) make sense

Nick Suss
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

OXFORD — Lane Kiffin is always going to be at the center of coaching carousel rumors.

Kiffin is coaching arguably the best season in Ole Miss football history and his 10th as a college head coach. The Rebels are ranked No. 8 nationally with a 9-2 record, five SEC wins and two ranked wins. With a win against Mississippi State (7-4, 4-3 SEC) on Thursday (6:30 p.m., ESPN), the Rebels will secure the first 10-win regular season in school history and tie Kiffin's best regular season, too.

Naturally, Kiffin's name has been bandied about for the high-profile coaching vacancies. Kiffin was branded a mercenary after leaving Tennessee one year into the job. Now no one doubts he'd do it again.

KIFFIN TO MIAMI? Nevin Shapiro claims Lane Kiffin is top candidate to become next Miami Hurricanes coach

TOPPMEYER:Why Lane Kiffin, Mike Leach, Sam Pittman form the case to fire a struggling coach

BLOWOUT COMING?If Ole Miss repeats Vanderbilt sleepwalk, 'we're going to get blown out' in Egg Bowl

The latest job to potentially implicate Kiffin in its search is at Florida. Less than a year removed from an SEC East title, the Gators parted ways with coach Dan Mullen on Sunday. Now, given Kiffin's Florida connections, his name is being thrown around. 

It's natural. It happens. But is it a good fit? Let's examine.

The case for

Kiffin has Florida connections; he won two conference titles in three seasons at Florida Atlantic from 2017-19. He'd be inheriting plenty of talent; Florida has finished among the top 14 teams in the 247Sports Composite team recruiting rankings four years running. He'd be going to a school with a larger stadium, a bigger budget and a stronger track record of success.

By almost every metric, Florida is a better job than Ole Miss. It's clearly easier to recruit in Florida, and sustained success is more realistic.

When Florida has been good, it's usually been with a cutting-edge offensive mind. Kiffin profiles similarly to championship-winning Florida coaches Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer in being on the vanguard of offensive innovation.

And it's a good time for Kiffin to leave Oxford. Ole Miss will likely lose 15 or more starters for 2022. If he has a soft rebuild in store either way, why not take the pay raise? Strike while the iron is hot. 

The case against

Expectations at Florida are out of whack. Will Muschamp was fired two years removed from a Sugar Bowl berth. Jim McElwain was fired a year after going to back-to-back SEC championships. Mullen was fired in his fourth season after going to New Year's Six bowls each of his first three.

No one is suggesting Kiffin can't succeed at Florida. But why would he want to go to a school that isn't giving coaches room for error? Kiffin could go 6-6 at Ole Miss the next two years and probably wouldn't land on the hot seat. There's no guarantee a 6-6 record keeps you your job in Gainesville.

Other major factors?

  • Gainesville isn't Boca Raton. He'd still be four hours from his old stomping grounds, which is why some have speculated Miami is a better fit than Florida. 
  • Optically, it might not be great for Florida to make consecutive hires pulling offensive-minded, sitting SEC head coaches from Mississippi. As stylistically different as Kiffin and Mullen are, it could look a bit like a retread.
  • Kiffin has never proven he can recruit four consecutive classes and win with his own players. Unless Florida is his actual dream job, it makes more sense to do that in Oxford instead of resetting his own clock on whatever his actual intended destination is.
  • Kiffin has a big personality. Not every school is built for his hijinks. After some of the PR issues Mullen created in Gainesville, the administration might want more of a milquetoast candidate.

The verdict

I'm not super-agent Jimmy Sexton or Kiffin's accountant. I'm not in the position to tell him to turn down a multi-million-dollar raise if he's offered one.

But if I've got to make a call here, I'm saying it's not the right time or fit for Kiffin to leave Ole Miss for Florida. It's easier to win at Florida. But with higher expectations come a lower threshold for failure. When one bad season can doom a coach, it's probably not a great place to give up on a stable gig for.

Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or nsuss@gannett.com. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.