OXFORD, Miss. — Lane Kiffin is confident he did the right thing by rebuffing overtures from Auburn to remain at Ole Miss, signing a long-term contract extension in late November.
But during an interview with ESPN on Friday, Kiffin said he struggled with the criticism he received from some fans over how he handled the process, which took weeks to resolve.
“We screw up all the time,” he admitted. “But when you think you’re doing the right thing and then you’re really criticized for it – especially by your own people – I struggled with that because I feel like I went through a decision-making process that you’re supposed to go through.
“I mean, you got to decide. It’s your life and your family’s life.”
It was clear from the moment Auburn fired Bryan Harsin on Oct. 31 that Kiffin would be a top target in the Tigers’ search.
But Kiffin took his time weighing the opportunity. And during that time, he didn’t make any public statements that he wasn’t going anywhere – a tactic he’d seen backfire with football coaches in the past who wound up going back on their word.
It wasn’t until the night before the final game of the regular season against rival Mississippi State that Kiffin informed the team he was staying.
“I felt that it would have been a distraction to make this big statement 24 hours before the game and making it about me,” Kiffin said. “So, I thought I was doing the right thing by saying, ‘OK, I’m going to avoid making this about me, you guys go play. But just so you know, you don’t have to sit here and worry that your coach is leaving tomorrow after the game or something. I’m staying, I just haven’t made it known publicly.’
“I told them thinking that’s what obviously matters the most, and because we lost it wasn’t done right. If we won, nobody would’ve cared.”
Ole Miss lost at home, 24-22, closing out the regular season on a three-game losing streak.
“Sometimes the right thing to do doesn’t always go right in areas,” Kiffin said.
But, speaking to ESPN in the midst of spring practice, Kiffin said he’s come to terms with the fans’ feelings toward the situation and thinks the focus should be on what’s most important — that he actually stayed.
“Which over time a lot of people have not done when they’ve been in similar situations, including that specific job, the Auburn job,” Kiffin pointed out.
Former Ole Miss coach Tommy Tuberville famously said they’d have to carry him out of Oxford in a pine box before he ultimately left for a new contract at Auburn.
Ten years ago, Kiffin said he might have seen the situation as black-and-white and jumped at the chance to go to a more proven program. He said he did his research, which showed that the last four coaches at Auburn before Harsin all had teams finish No. 1 or 2 in the final Associated Press Poll. The last time Ole Miss accomplished that was 1960.
But Kiffin said he has matured over the last decade and that there were other factors to take into account, including personal considerations like his daughter, who is planning on attending Ole Miss after she graduates high school.
What’s more, he said he’s confident in the direction of the program, which is 18-8 over the last two seasons and has become a top destination for transfers.
Once again, Kiffin has brought in top talent from around the country via the portal this offseason, most notably bolstering the quarterback with the additions of former All-Big 12 quarterback Spencer Sanders from Oklahoma State and former five-star QB prospect Walker Howard from LSU.