Lane Kiffin at least knows his history when it comes to how coaches have handled questions about taking other jobs — particularly ones in the state of Alabama.
Ole Miss’ head coach on Monday was again asked a question pertaining to his name being linked to the vacancy at Auburn, namely whether his players approach him with their own questions about his future with the Rebels. Kiffin said his players don’t ask him about such things — “they know how we operate” — and proceeded to make references to a pair of infamous quotes from Tommy Tuberville and Nick Saban in 1998 and 2006, respectively.
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“I mean, I don’t know what else to say,” Kiffin told local reporters during his weekly press conference in Oxford, Miss. “I’m extremely happy here, like we just talked about. The difference of where this program is now compared to three years ago, and I feel that we have really good support. I mean, I can get up here and give you whatever it was—the ‘pine box’ speech and, ‘I’m not going to be the next head coach at Alabama.’ I can give you those things, and so, I don’t know what those mean. I don’t know what else to say.”
Kiffin was, of course, referring to Tuberville’s notorious comments 24 years ago when he was head coach at Ole Miss, shortly before taking over at Auburn. At the end of the 1998 season, Tuberville was asked about leaving for another job, to which he said, “They’ll have to carry me out of here in a pine box.” Less than a week later, Tuberville was named the head coach at Auburn.
The other reference Kiffin dropped was regarding his former boss at Alabama. In 2006, Saban was still with the Miami Dolphins and was repeatedly questioned about the opening at Alabama after the Tide fired Mike Shula at the end of that season. On Dec. 21, 2006, a little more than three weeks after the Alabama job came open, Saban infamously said, “I guess I have to say it: I’m not going to be the Alabama coach.”
Two weeks later, Saban left the Dolphins to take over at Alabama.
Kiffin’s name has been linked to the Auburn job since before the Tigers fired Bryan Harsin on Halloween, and buzz surrounding the 47-year-old coach has only grown louder in recent weeks, with multiple reports indicating he has been the top target of new Auburn athletics director John Cohen. Another report surfaced late last week that Ole Miss offered Kiffin a new contract that would make him among the 10 highest-paid coaches in the country if he remained in Oxford.
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Kiffin, who signed a new deal with Ole Miss last year, is currently the 11th-highest paid coach in the country and makes $7.25 million this season.
“I mean, I’ve been here three years and been fortunate enough to have, I guess now I have three different contracts, so I don’t know why all of a sudden a fourth contract makes people feel better,” Kiffin said. “Like I said, we’re very appreciative of everything here.”
Kiffin, who has expressed confidence in his players’ ability to block out outside noise — such as his name coming up again in the coaching carousel — was also asked if he had any concern about it becoming a distraction during rivalry week. Ole Miss faces Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving Day. He said it’s something he has thought about and even asked his coaching staff about.
“Like analytics, we study the past,” Kiffin said. “We played in the last game at FAU, the conference championship, and that morning ESPN leaked that we were the head coach at Ole Miss. The entire team knew, and we went out and won by 40. These same questions the same week we were one play away from beating Alabama. So, not much analytics to show that would matter about player performance.”
Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.