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Ole Miss Football Coach Lane Kiffin’s Contract Could Prompt a Change to the Mississippi Constitution

Mac Gordon

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The recent blather over the length of Ole Miss head football coach Lane Kiffin’s contract could prompt a change to the Mississippi Constitution.

Auburn University was in hot pursuit of Kiffin after its midseason firing of former coach Bryan Harsin. A major incentive offered Kiffin was that at Auburn, he’d have a longer contract than allowed for Mississippi’s university employees.

Ole Miss found a way to keep Kiffin by skirting Mississippi’s restriction limiting those workers to four-year contracts. The school gave Kiffin a $1 million-plus raise and an extension of his contract to six years, running it through a private athletics foundation rather than normal university channels.

Auburn wound up hiring Liberty University’s Hugh Freeze, who was the heavily-scrutinized Ole Miss coach from 2012-2016. Auburn loves current and former Rebel coaches, for some strange reason.

Kiffin has coached the Rebs to a 23-12 record in his three years, including a 10-win season in 2021 that included a Sugar Bowl loss to Baylor. The “Lane Train’s” axles slipped off late this year, with the Rebels, who began 7-0, finishing 8-4 after losing the Egg Bowl finale to Mississippi State, 24-22. They are preparing for a bowl appearance later on this month.

During Auburn’s dire new coach search, media pundits and fans in Alabama hammered home the point about Mississippi’s contractual limitations on Kiffin. They reasoned he couldn’t possibly turn Auburn down, considering that AU also had more money in its “Name, Image and Likeness” Fund, aka NIL, and wealthier alumni to tap as necessary on their way to future gridiron glory.

NIL is a new program allowing athletes to legally earn up to $10,000 annually for the use of their image, even while claiming amateur status. This and the transfer portal are recruiting tools unlike any others in intercollegiate athletics history. Fans following the evolution of college athletics must’ve known the day was coming for athletes to be paid, one way or another.

Rebel supporters dug deep to keep their coach, padding their own NIL pot of gold, hiking Kiffin’s pay and ushering his new longer-term contract through the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation, an arm of the umbrella University of Mississippi Foundation.

This maneuvering of Kiffin’s contract is perfectly legal since private, not public, money is being used to extend the coach’s deal, transparency kicked to the curb.

State Sen. Josh Harkins of Rankin County, chairman of the influential Senate Finance Committee, attempted during the 2018 Legislature to remove the four-year limit on state university contracts.

Harkins’ proposal to amend section 213-A of Article VIII of the state constitution would have deleted the four-year contract term language, leaving the pacts open-ended. His effort died in a Senate committee.

Ole Miss tried and failed in 1997 to keep then-Rebel coach Tommy Tuberville through a longer contract incentive. Now-U.S. Sen. Tuberville moved on to Auburn, despite claiming he’d leave Oxford only in a velvet-lined pine casket.

Many colleges have found themselves stuck with large buyout payments when firing coaches holding multi-year terms. Auburn is the “buyout king,” recently paying coach Gus Malzahn $21 million after he was fired three years into a seven-year contract.

“(The Mississippi law) is probably good from a state perspective because you at least have some limitation on damages,” sports agent Marty Greenberg told the

Sen. Harkins is a product of Mississippi State University, whose own coach, Mike Leach, has been working under the same four-year contract limitation. I was unable to reach Harkins to ask if he might give lawmakers another shot at making the change.

The timing seems just about right.

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