Lane Kiffin, the current head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels football team, spoke recently with ESPN about his unconventional approach to recruiting players. Kiffin believes that the traditional “family atmosphere” pitch that coaches often use to lure top talent is misleading and unrealistic. According to Kiffin, coaches cannot promise to treat their players like family because of the business nature of college football and the high transfer rates in recent years.
“These coaches sell parents on — especially in the south — come here, it’s family, we’re gonna treat you like family,” he says. “I’m like, ‘No, they’re not.’ If it was family, then why do coaches bring kids in and say, ‘Hey, we want to help you transfer, it’d be better for you to transfer.’? You don’t do that to your family. So the whole family thing, I said, ‘We have to teach some reality that there’s a business side.'” -Lane Kiffin to ESPN
Instead of promising a family atmosphere, Kiffin has embraced the transfer portal, utilizing it to bolster his roster with experienced players from other schools. He has signed a plethora of transfers, with the number of transfers outpacing that of recruits in some years. Kiffin touts the benefits of competition in order to motivate his players to perform at their best, as he believes that bringing in new talent should only make everyone better.
Kiffin tells players that competition ultimately makes everyone better, and, “Just like the pros, we can’t not sign players based off your feelings.”
“That’s not my job to make you happy,” he says. “My job is to make the best roster for our fans, for our [athletic director], for our chancellor that hired me.”
Kiffin has successfully landed some elite transfers, including Jaxson Dart from USC, a 2020 Gatorade National Player of the Year, Walker Howard from LSU, and Spencer Sanders, a 4-year starter at Oklahoma State. Kiffin’s success proves that his strategy, although unconventional, can work effectively.
Kiffin’s approach, however, has its critics. Though the head coach’s need to field the best possible team by any means necessary is understandable, it inevitably leads to players being cast aside in favor of the newest recruits. Kiffin acknowledged this, stating that his role is to create the best possible roster for his fans, athletic director, and chancellor, not necessarily to cater to a player’s individual desires.
In conclusion, Lane Kiffin is shaking up the traditional mold of college football recruiting. While his approach has its benefits, it is also important to recognize the concerns that it raises. What is clear is that the transfer portal has fundamentally changed the way coaches approach recruiting, and it will only continue to grow as a focal point in the years to come.