Lane Kiffin describes opening query about Nick Saban as ‘pretty usual’

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ATLANTA — Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin provided a strong hint he and other SEC coaches who were former assistants on Alabama coach Nick Saban‘s staff, including Georgia coach Kirby Smart, may grow tired of questions about their former boss.

Kiffin smirked when his first question Monday at the Southeastern Conference Media Days asked him to recall Saban’s philosophy on trick plays.

“Well, Kirby Smart used to say sometimes you come up here and just talking about Alabama,” Kiffin said. “So our first question somehow is about Nick Saban, so … that’s pretty usual.”

Kiffin smiled before adding Saban liked trick plays – but only when they worked.

CRAWFISH AND OYSTERS FOR KELLY

New LSU coach Brian Kelly was bold enough to sample a Louisiana accent when he was hired to a 10-year deal in November.

At his first SEC Media Days appearance, Kelly was asked to use his best Cajun accent when talking about his favorite Louisiana food. This time, he deferred.

Kelly, the Massachusetts native and former Notre Dame coach, said his accent is complicated.

“Understand now, I have a Boston, Midwestern, Louisiana accent now,” Kelly said. “It’s three dialects into one. It’s no longer family, I got all kinds of stuff to throw at you. Just be ready.”

Kelly listed two new favorite foods.

“The best? You know, it’s probably the crawfish etouffee,” he said. “I don’t know how you top that. I would say also the grilled oysters. If you haven’t had grilled oysters, try that. That will get your cholesterol level up high pretty quickly. That’s pretty good, too.”

RIVALRIES RENEWED

Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz said he supports renewing rivalries with Texas and Oklahoma when those schools join the SEC in 2025.

“I’m all for it,” Drinkwitz said. “I think I said up here earlier that I think the beauty of college football is the rivalries that we have. I think it’s the shared traditions and pageantry of the game.

“I think we’ve got to be careful that we don’t miss that or lose that in search of better TV contracts or better TV exposure. We’re going to lose the basis of who we are.”

NO. 1 STATE – IN BASEBALL

Football is still king in the state of Mississippi, but the baseball programs have been hot topics, too.

Ole Miss won the College World Series title in June, a year after rival Mississippi State pulled off the same feat. So college baseball was a topic the Rebels players were happy to talk about.

“I think that was just great for the state of Mississippi that we could also do it,” Ole Miss offensive lineman Nick Broeker said.

And in the title aftermath, Broeker and defensive lineman Cedric Johnson said the celebration was something to see.

“Oxford was crazy. I’ve never seen Oxford like that,” Broeker said. “Every place was just slammed. Every restaurant. Everything. It was just unbelievable how everybody really came together. It was awesome to see.”

Added Johnson: “You could feel the energy. It was just crazy. Everybody on social media, just the whole campus, you could just feel it. Just the energy radiating throughout everybody.”

TRANSFERS IMPACT QB COMPETITIONS

The first three teams appearing at media days all have ongoing quarterback battles impacted by the transfer portal.

Not exactly an uncommon storyline these days.

At Mississippi, USC transfer Jaxson Dart is vying with Luke Altmyer to replace standout quarterback Matt Corral, a third-round draft pick by the Carolina Panthers in this year’s NFL draft.

Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels has joined the quarterback competition at LSU. Daniels is vying for the job with Myles Brennan and Garrett Nussmeier.

Brennan missed last season with a broken arm. Max Johnson, a 33-game starter, transferred to SEC West rival Texas A&M.

Former Missouri starter Connor Bazelak transferred to Indiana. Coach Eliah Drinkwitz brought in former Southern Miss starter Jack Abraham, who spent last season at Mississippi State but didn’t play because of injury. Brady Cook and Tyler Macon are returnees.

Obviously none of the coaches are tipping their hands as to any current front-runner. Kelly summed up what he’s looking for from whoever emerges.

“Number 1, they’ve got to take care of the football,” Kelly said. “Number 2, they have to get the ball to playmakers. I have playmakers on offense that are already in place. Number 3, they’ve got to make plays.

“The ultimate decision-making on who that quarterback is, he’ll have to hit those three notes. I think all of these guys can do that. We’ll have to put them in that position so we can evaluate that.”

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.