Lane Kiffin called it halftime, and the newly-minted Ole Miss head coach will surely benefit from the intermission. The last 10 days have been a whirlwind for Kiffin, only made more complicated by this newly-instituted early signing period that is now a year old.
“It is kind of strange,” Kiffin said. “It is kind of like having a press conference at halftime of a game. You can’t win or lose a game at halftime and that is where we are right now.”
Since accepting the job just under two weeks ago, Kiffin has been working and traveling nonstop with a makeshift, partially-filled staff. He’s had to assess the roster, establish his own recruiting goals while simultaneous trying to keep the core of an already established class together. This class was always going to be abbreviated and the only way this day was going to be eventful for the Rebels would’ve been in the form of disaster. That, of course, did not happen. As of this writing, Ole Miss inked 11 signatures on Wednesday. Kiffin said he expected at least one more. He parted ways with some commitments and lost a couple of undecided in-state prospects to out-of-state schools, namely four star Oxford tight end J.J. Pegues to Auburn and Horn Lake four-star defensive tackle Josaih Hayes to Kentucky. The latter was more of a surprise.
“When we came in, we didn’t know the roster great,” Kiffin said. “We’ll always try to sign the best players regardless of position, but especially in our first year as we look at things. We informed some guys who maybe had scholarships here before that we’re going in a different direction in fairness to them. I think that’s the best thing to do instead of keeping kids that were coming for the previous staff and they don’t fit and are wanting to transfer in a year or two.”
The bottom line is that there is a lot of work to be done on multiple fronts for Kiffin between now and February. He needs to fill out his staff, something that will likely be done in the next two-to-three weeks before the recruiting period opens back up in January. Again, this was all expected as this new signing model has added in increased strain on coaching staffs taking over new programs.
Kiffin did shed some light on where current defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre stands as far as being retained as well as a timeline for the the rest of his staff being in place.
“Mike is definitely one of those candidates for defensive coordinator,” Kinin said. “When you figure out that, you can figure out the rest. I always try to hire the coordinators first then interview the other guys, whether it is outside guys or guys who are here. Any guys who are still on staff will have the first chance to interview, and we’ll go from there.”
The 11 signees were defense-heavy. Kiffin said he didn’t have a goal number as far as signees on Wednesday and his focus will continue to closely hover on the defensive side of the football. Ole Miss’ two biggest needs are defensive linemen and defensive backs. A young Rebels secondary struggled at times a season ago and they lose the likes of Benito Jones, Josiah Coatney and Qaadir Sheppaard on the defensive front. The offensive line is a concern as well and a the Rebels took a step in meeting that need by signing Columbus, MS product Eli Acker — the top-rated offensive lineman in the state — and German offensive tackle Tobias Braun, who signed with Ole Miss over Florida State.
But the overall theme of this day for Kiffin was that this looming intermission is much-needed and the bulk of the work is still left to be done.
“This is much different than taking, like Tennessee and USC before, there was no mid-year signing,” Kiffin said. “We had until February. At USC, even with the probation and the hearings coming up, I think we signed the No. 1 class in the country. Tennessee we signed a top-10 class, even though we were only there for a month or two. But this is a whole different animal. You have one week and one weekend, so it’s a lot more difficult.”
• 3-star outside linebacker Jakivuan Brown
•3-star offensive tackle Eli Acker
•3-star running back Kentrel Bullock
•3-star defensive back Derek Bermudez*
•3-star inside linebacker Austin Keys*
•3-star offensive tackle Tobias Braun
•3-star defensive lineman DeSanto Rollins
•3-star tight end DaMarcus Thomas
•3-star defensive end Cedric Johnson
•3-star pro-style quarterback Kade Renfro*
•JUCO linebacker Daylen Gill*
*will early enroll and practice with team in spring