HOOVER, Ala. — Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin came up with an interesting diet to battle the lure of Mississippi food.
It turns out he’s not eating until his Rebels’ defense stops somebody.
Never change, Lane.
But that’s Kiffin, who had to remind SEC commissioner Greg Sankey that it wasn’t actually his first appearance at this gala — he was here 12 years ago to kick off his one-year hitch with Tennessee.
Back then he was the SEC’s bad-boy coach, seemingly always at odds with then-commissioner Mike Slive when he wasn’t taunting then-Florida coach Urban Meyer with threats to sing “Rocky Top” in the Gators’ Swamp.
He’s only slightly reformed — still sometimes looks and acts like a teenager who can’t help himself.
He brought along his son Knox so he could remind Sankey that his youngster will need a scholarship — his “college fund is gone” thanks to last season’s fine over a tweet Kiffin fired off.
But he and Sankey were a jovial pair before the second-year coach went about explaining how a team that led the SEC in total offense last season might benefit from a defense that doesn’t finish dead last again.
The Rebels, for instance, scored 48 points apiece in their games against Alabama and LSU a year ago, but lost both games to the last two national champions.
It’s part of the reason that last year fourth down was never an automatic punt for him.
“Knowing, hey, there’s a good chance they’re scoring anyway, so let’s actually be more aggressive to try to create a turnover (on defense) versus letting them move down the field.
“So we’ll look to improve there,” he said of his defense.
But you don’t come to hear Kiffin talk about his analytics-based Xs and Os, even if good friend Ed Orgeron calls him the “best offensive mind I’ve ever been around.”
Take social media. Other coaches may take a two-thumb approach to the “Twitter machine.” Kiffin embraces it, adroit in the verse and lingo of all social media, even if it gets him fined occasionally.
He’s not opposed even to sparring with opposing fans with a well-placed needle from time to time. He’ll even take a sly shot at former boss Nick Saban.
“I do enjoy it,” he admitted. “Just seeing it and seeing the interaction, especially in the SEC and the fans. ... here’s this tweet, and it only has 20 retweets. Something serious. Then here’s something that isn’t serious at all but has to do with the SEC, and here’s hundreds of retweets. So there’s a lot of passion here in this conference and the fan base. I enjoy it.”
The transfer portal?
He doesn’t get mad when a player leaves, and can’t understand why some of his assistants do.
“It’s just the world we live in that free agency just happens,” he said. “Assistants say, ‘How can this kid leave?’ And I look at the assistant coach and say, ‘You’re the same guy who’s going to leave when you get a deal somewhere else.’ So I wish him the best of luck.”
But Tuesday’s media session took a abrupt turn when word broke that Saban had said in Texas that Alabama quarterback Bryce Young had already racked up nearly $1 million in endorsements due to the NCAA’s looser restrictions on taking advantage of Name Image and Likeness.
Kiffin hadn’t heard about it before taking the podium and being asked.
“You didn’t prepare me for that,” he said. “That’s amazing. He made a million dollars and hasn’t started a game yet? Wow, I don’t even know what to respond to that, but great for him.
“I wouldn’t want to be compliance departments, but a million dollars, whew.”
A few minutes later he was asked a totally unrelated question.
“I’m still blown away on this Bryce Young thing,” he answered in response to another defensive-improvement question . “The guy’s made a million dollars already? That’s good, man. He don’t need to play next year against us, then. I mean, that’s mind blowing.”