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Mississippi head coach Lane Kiffin speaks during NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days, Monday, July 18, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA — So much for easing into this week's SEC media days. Shortly after Ole Miss' Lane Kiffin stepped to the podium here inside the College Football Hall of Fame Monday afternoon, he reminded the gathering of more than 1,000 reporters why he remains the most unique character among the league's coaches since Steve Spurrier hung up his visor seven years ago.

After commissioner Greg Sankey warmed up the audience by opening the week's festivities with his state of the league address — which included barely waiting for one reporter to finish asking if adding Oklahoma and Texas trumped the Big 10's recent additions of UCLA and USC before replying matter-of-factly "Yes!" — new LSU head coach Brian Kelly offered up the equivalent of unseasoned gumbo with a string of bland answers.

Then came Kiffin. Looking tanned and relaxed and wearing a fresh pair of powder-blue and white custom Nike's with "The Sip" embroidered across the top to compliment his suit — but no tie.

For more than 30 minutes Kiffin answered questions ranging from how popular his new dog Juice has become on social media — the golden Labrador has nearly 16,000 Twitter followers — to his thoughts on NIL deals and the new recruiting landscape, where he remains ahead of many old-school peers. He then finished his time by confirming that he had in fact autographed a fan's yellow mustard bottle on his way into the building — similar to the one thrown on the field by frustrated Tennessee fans during the closing minutes of last year's matchup in Knoxville.

While LSU's Kelly and Missouri's Eli Drinkwitz mostly spoke around the NIL questions, Kiffin didn't hesitate to share his thoughts directly.

"The keys to NIL and how you do well with that is to have really good boosters," Kiffin said. "It's like a payroll in baseball. What teams win over a long period of time? Teams that have high payrolls and can pay players a lot. We're in a situation not any different than that.

"I said day one, you legalized cheating, so get ready for the people that have the most money to get players. Now you have it. It is what it is. Coaches should be like general managers and help manage what the players make. That's what other professional sports do, which is what we are now."

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Mississippi head coach Lane Kiffin speaks during NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days, Monday, July 18, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The NIL deals may be the one area where Kiffin's program still has ground to make up when it comes to finding creative ways of consistently winning the recruiting battles needed to bring in the type of talent it'll take to ensure last year's 10-win Sugar Bowl season becomes the norm instead of the exception in Oxford.

Kiffin, who last year became the first Rebels coach to win his first two Egg Bowl matchups with rival Mississippi State since Billy Brewer in 1983-84, certainly isn't lacking for the swagger that catches elite prospects eyes on the recruiting trail. Whether by showcasing his car collection on social media or setting an NCAA record by going for it on fourth down 49 times last season, he certainly seems to understand what today's college prospects want to be a part of.

Earlier this year highly-touted USC transfer quarterback Jaxson Dart posed with Kiffin next to the coach's six-figure Ashton Martin for a social media post. Dart eventually enrolled at Ole Miss as part of a transfer portal haul that included two 5-star, five 4-star and two 3-star players added to the Rebels' roster.

"I think for you guys that have been around me or listened to me, we don't sit around and complain how things are and how they should be," Kiffin said. "Ideally you shouldn't be picking places because of what car they're taking pictures in. But there's a lot of things I wish were different. We don't sit around and worry about that. We try to be creative. We kind of have a saying: We don't think outside the box, we just create a new box.

"If that's what kids care about and look at — especially at Ole Miss— you need to be that way to have a chance. I didn't wear a tie today because why are we supposed to wear a tie? Just because it was done before? We don't just do things the way they were done before."

But for all his seemingly outlandish quirks, two things can't be argued against — Kiffin has proven he knows how to get results on the field, and his players' loyalty remains his biggest selling point.

Ole Miss junior defensive end Cedric Johnson said he and his teammates know there's substance to their coach that goes deeper than the social media posts and attention-getting quotes.

"He obviously has a lot of swag," Johnson said with a smile shortly after his coach left the stage Monday. "He's showing recruits what his personality is like and that just makes them want to come play for him more.

"The main thing I like is his trust in us. Like I know people think he's crazy for going for it so much on fourth downs, but that just shows the trust he has in us. But you can see he's very different than any other coach around. Like now he's starting to use his dog's Twitter account to recruit. I mean, that's something I don't think a lot of coaches would even think of, but for him it works."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

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