BOCA RATON, Fla. — Lane Kiffin is headed to Ole Miss.
Kiffin and the Rebels made the announcement Saturday after his Florida Atlantic football team defeated the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the Conference USA championship game, the Owls' second league title in Kiffin's three seasons leading the program.
It had been college football's worst-kept secret since Friday, and the schools ended all doubt by conceding the deal had been made.
"I am truly honored and humbled to join the Ole Miss family," Kiffin said, "and recognize this as a special opportunity to lead Rebel Football into the future."
If there was any doubt when the day began, it went away once a short video clip of his son's reaction to the news went public. ESPN's SEC Network tweeted out a clip of Kiffin's son Knox being told he was getting on a jet Monday — because his father has a new job.
"Your dad is the new head coach of Ole Miss," a woman on the tape says to the boy.
"Let's go!" Knox Kiffin responds, before chanting "S-E-C! S-E-C!"
Indeed, the Southeastern Conference is going to be Kiffin's playground once again. Ole Miss has planned an introductory news conference Monday in Oxford.
The former Tennessee head coach — who wanted the attention in his news conference Saturday to be on Florida Atlantic's win — conceded he had watched the clip of his son about 25 times.
"That was awesome to see his reaction," Kiffin said. "That's just special. For those of you who have children, to see your child react like that, it's pretty neat."
He then paused and smiled: "But I blame his mom for putting that out there."
Ole Miss showed some highlights of the Owls' win over UAB on the jumbotron at its men's basketball game Saturday, and the Rebels' Twitter account posted a puff of white smoke — akin to the selection of a new pope — followed by an image of a train.
The message was clear: The Lane Train is headed to Oxford. Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer takes over as the Owls' interim coach.
Kiffin went 26-13 in his three seasons at Florida Atlantic and is 61-34 in parts of eight seasons as a college head coach, having also led Tennessee and Southern California. Now he takes over a program that hasn't produced a winning season since going 10-3 in 2015 and winning the Sugar Bowl, capping a string of four straight bowl appearances.
The Rebels went 4-8 this season. Kiffin replaces Matt Luke, an Ole Miss alum who was fired last Sunday after going 15-21 in three seasons.
"We've got to find a head coach who can walk into a room and absolutely take over that room and galvanize people, bring them back," Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter said earlier in the week. "I think people want to support, they want to come back, they want to come to Ole Miss football games, but we just lost some of that luster."
Enter Kiffin. It was always assumed bigger schools would come calling for Kiffin again. He made about $3 million in salary in all with the Owls but will likely command more than that annually from the Rebels.
His tenure with Florida Atlantic will likely be remembered as exactly what Kiffin needed. The Owls won a bunch of games — more in his three seasons than they did in the previous seven combined — and did so without any hint of major scandal.
There was some controversy. Kiffin brought in Kendal Briles as his first offensive coordinator after Briles was on his father Art's staff at Baylor when that program was rocked by a sexual assault scandal.
There was some newsmaking. Kiffin brought in players from the Netflix documentary "Last Chance U." He offered scholarships to kids who are still several years from college. And there, of course, was Twitter, where Kiffin's dry sense of humor could make news as soon as he touched the send button.
He acknowledged he was too young to handle the job when the Oakland Raiders made him an NFL head coach at 31, when he got hired at Tennessee at 32 and when he got hired at Southern California at 34.
He's 44 now. He has apparently learned to live in the public eye, or at least figured out how to deal with constant scrutiny, and will have to do that plenty as he returns to the SEC three years after his stint as Alabama's offensive coordinator ended and he wound up starting anew in South Florida.
Kiffin said the players changed him.
"They've done a great job and they've helped me," he said. "They've kind of taught me. I was used to all players thinking they were going to the NFL and your job is to get the players drafted the highest that you can. This place changed me to realize, I've got a bigger calling than that. My calling is to really help these kids develop."
The next chapter is at Ole Miss, where Kiffin has some history.
In 2009, his lone season at Tennessee, the Volunteers went to Oxford and lost 42-17. Alabama was 1-2 against the Rebels in Kiffin's three seasons as offensive coordinator with the Crimson Tide, losing in 2014 and 2015 before winning in 2016.
The NCAA forced Ole Miss to vacate 33 wins over a six-year period, though, including those two wins over Alabama. Kiffin tweeted that Tide head coach Nick Saban's record should then be changed as well, noting that if those two outcomes no longer count "we only lost once together."
The reason why Ole Miss had to vacate those wins was because the NCAA found the school committed numerous recruiting violations — including some by Kiffin's brother, former Rebels defensive line coach Chris Kiffin. Chris was coaching for his brother at Florida Atlantic when the ruling came out and is now with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers.
The news of those sanctions broke the day before the Owls hosted the 2017 C-USA title game. The news that Kiffin was in position to leave for Owls for Ole Miss, notably, broke the day before they hosted this year's league final.
Kiffin has left some jobs on bad terms. Not this time. He left as a champion.
"You don't win two conference championships because you hire a head coach," he said. "You have to have a lot of things in place and a lot of people helping. That's what happened here."
That's what Ole Miss hopes can happen again.
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