The infamous, but maturing (so he says) Lane Kiffin comes to play Kentucky on Saturday

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The Bad Boys of Mississippi are coming to town.

First it’s Lane Kiffin, new head football coach at Ole Miss. Then it’s Mike Leach, new head football coach at Mississippi State. Kiffin and his Rebels will be at Kroger Field to face the Kentucky Wildcats at 4 p.m. Saturday on the SEC Network. Leach and the Bulldogs come calling next Saturday, Oct. 10.

Leach is the current talk of the SEC, his “Air Raid” passing attack having bombed defending national champion LSU 44-34 in Baton Rouge last Saturday. You remember Mike, former Hal Mumme assistant at Kentucky before head coaching stops at Texas Tech and Washington State. The old Pirate is back in the SEC and no doubt looking forward to the return to his former home, after MSU plays Arkansas this weekend, of course.

Of more immediate importance to the Cats is Kiffin, the 45-year-old son of legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin who has been described as brash, immature, cocky and controversial — to name a few — in what has been a tumultuous coaching career.

Some highlights: Hired at just 31 years of age as head coach of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, Kiffin was fired 20 games later by legendary owner Al Davis, who called Kiffin a “flat-out liar.” The University of Tennessee subsequently hired Kiffin, only to see him leave just one year later — Big Orange fans still spit out his name — to be the head coach at Southern Cal, where he had been offensive coordinator for Pete Carroll.

Kiffin lasted 43 games in Los Angeles before a 62-41 loss at Arizona State in 2013 dropped the Trojans to 3-2 and caused athletics director Pat Haden to pink-slip his head coach at 3 a.m. on the tarmac of the Los Angeles International Airport.

Kiffin next surfaced at Alabama as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator where the two had, shall we say, an unusual relationship. It ended abruptly when Kiffin took another job before the 2016-17 CFP national title game and Saban told his OC not to let the door hit him on the way out.

“I don’t know if he misses me,” said Kiffin after Bama lost the title game. “Maybe on third down the other night.”

That other job made Kiffin a head coach again, this time at Florida Atlantic were he (sort of) rehabilitated his image while proving he could win again. FAU went 28-15 his three seasons there, including a 10-3 season last year. Having fired Matt Luke after a 4-8 season, Ole Miss AD Keith Carter welcomed Kiffin back to the SEC. A more mature Lane Kiffin.

“I feel like I was a head coach before, going back to USC, and really I was the offensive coordinator being the head coach and developing players, getting them to the NFL. Getting a lot of players drafted,” said Kiffin at his introductory press conference. “I really changed and realized there is more to this, that’s not my calling.”

This hasn’t changed: Kiffin knows how to put up points. Florida Atlantic was 14th nationally in scoring offense last season. Upon arriving in Oxford, Kiffin hired a new playcaller in Jeff Lebby, who was offensive coordinator of the nation’s No. 2 offense last season at UCF. Ole Miss lost 51-35 to Florida in Kiffin’s debut last Saturday, but it gained 613 yards on the Gators.

“As a playcaller and a coach he’s very good, very talented,” UK’s Mark Stoops said Monday. “He grew up around the game with his father Monte being a coach, his whole life being around it. Lane’s been around it and is very talented. And different, you can see Lane adapting and changing. He’s a different coordinator now and they are a little bit different style than the last time we crossed paths. But definitely puts a lot of stress on you.”

He’ll put stress on Kentucky’s defense Saturday in a game that is big for both teams, though in this 10-game SEC pandemic season they are all big games. Both are 0-1. Neither wants to be 0-2. That would be bad.


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