It’s getting harder and harder to envision a world in which Lane Kiffin is not the next head coach at Auburn, even after his denials. Several reporters, on both the Auburn and Ole Miss side of things, find this to be the case. Numerous people unconnected to either program have also said the coaching world views the Ole Miss football job as soon to be vacated, and coaches are already putting out feelers to gauge Ole Miss’ interest.
Ole Miss football is in a very promising position to deal with the departure of their coach, believe it or not. NIL donations have exploded in recent weeks, and reports suggest that while Lane Kiffin estimated his program would need around $4.5 million in NIL money for the 2023 season, Ole Miss’ largest NIL collective, The Grove Collective, currently has in the neighborhood of $7 million on hand to spend specifically on football.
The Manning Center, Ole Miss’ football facility, is currently undergoing wide-scale renovations expected to be completed this coming offseason. The extension offer to Kiffin from Ole Miss reportedly held a base salary of $9.5 million with incentives that would’ve taken total pay to somewhere in the region of $11 million.
These are all incredibly attractive prospects for any coach, and several coaches have already had their names linked with the top job in Oxford. Let’s take a look into five of those names and judge how good a fit they may be, in no particular order.
5. Hugh Freeze, Head Coach of Liberty
Could the reunion be possible? Jimmy Sexton, college football super agent, is definitely hoping so. He represents just about everyone connected to the SEC, and Huge Freeze is reportedly the man Sexton wants to push into Oxford if the job becomes open. Ole Miss is reportedly less than enthusiastic about it, given the state Freeze left Ole Miss in 2016.
From 2012-16, Freeze amassed a 27-25 record, though that doesn’t tell the whole story. In 2014, he guided the Rebels to a 9-4 record, including a win over then-No. 2 Alabama. In 2015, Freeze repeated the trick, beating Alabama, and this time finishing 10-3 with a Sugar Bowl victory on top of it. In 2016, things fell apart, as his Rebels blew 21-point leads to both Florida State and Alabama, losing both, and after a litany of NCAA sanctions and other allegations about Freeze’s personal life came out, he and Ole Miss parted ways.
After taking time off from coaching, Freeze returned to take the Liberty job in 2019, where he has since compiled a 34-13 record with the Flames. He’s definitely deserving of a Power Five job, but Ole Miss is probably not the one he’s going to get.
4. Jamey Chadwell, Head Coach of Coastal Carolina
Jamey Chadwell is widely considered a rising star in the coaching world, though he may be a year or so removed from getting serious Power Five offers. Nonetheless, in his only FBS head coaching experience to date with Coastal Carolina, Chadwell has built up a 39-20 record, including 11-win seasons in each of the past two campaigns. The Chanticleers look poised to hit at least 10 wins again in 2022.
He’d be a high-risk, high-reward option for Ole Miss football, but definitely not the first option of athletic director Keith Carter.
3. Matt Rhule, Unemployed
Matt Rhule has been linked to any and every head coaching vacancy in some regard since being fired by the Carolina Panthers. His successful tenures at both Temple and Baylor sit fresh in the mind of athletic directors and reporters alike, and he’s widely viewed as a program builder.
In an interview with Football Scoop on Tuesday, Rhule said his time away from coaching has reinvigorated his passion for the profession, and he would “give anything” to be back on a sideline coaching football players. There are unconfirmed reports Rhule rejected an offer from Nebraska, but let’s not get into that.
He has never coached in the SEC before, but his recruiting ties to Texas make him valuable wherever he goes. He has had success at every stop sans Panthers, and he’s completely available right now. Expect to hear reports of contact between Ole Miss and Rhule. If it gets farther than that is anyone’s guess, but it will undoubtedly come.
2. Mike Norvell, Head Coach of Florida State
Mike Norvell is an interesting one. He has finally found success at Florida State after spending the last two years cleaning up the mess left behind by Jimbo Fisher. When he was lured away from Memphis by the Seminoles, he was actually Keith Carter’s first choice for Ole Miss football before Norvell decided on Florida State, and Ole Miss hired Kiffin.
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It’s no secret that Norvell has great recruiting ties to the Memphis area, having been the head coach there, and that’s an area Ole Miss has historically recruited very well to great success. If Carter was a Norvell admirer in 2019, he’s almost certainly one in 2022. Whether Norvell would consider departing Tallahassee is a different discussion, but he would be a good fit at Ole Miss if the chips fell that way.
1. Luke Fickell, Head Coach of Cincinnati
Reports have been going for the entirety of the Kiffin-to-Auburn saga about an unnamed coach monitoring the situation with eyes on the Ole Miss football job. Tuesday night, that coach was revealed to be Luke Fickell of Cincinnati. Fickell, of course, led the Bearcats to become the first Group of Five conference team to reach the College Football Playoff last season, and he has his team one win against Tulane away from playing in the conference championship game for a fourth consecutive season.
Fickell has recruited the South very well while at Cincinnati, and he actually has ties to current Ole Miss staff, having worked with Rebels defensive line coach Randall Joyner when Fickell was defensive coordinator at Ohio State and Joyner was a defensive graduate assistant.
Fickell, while not the most obvious of fits, would be an absolute home run of a hire for the Rebels. It has been reported and assumed that the only two jobs Fickell has seriously considered leaving Cincinnati for before now were Ohio State, which was given to Ryan Day, and Notre Dame, which of course went to Marcus Freeman this past offseason.
If the Rebs can land him, they’ll be in a position to be a real contender for the SEC. Keith Carter has to at least make him tell Ole Miss no.