All-access with Lane Kiffin for his SEC homecoming at Ole Miss

Kiffin excited to work with talent at Ole Miss (1:18)

New Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin explains how the deal came together and how excited he is to get started. (1:18)

OXFORD, Miss. -- Lane Kiffin leans over and peers out the window as the University of Mississippi school plane crawls to a stop Sunday evening at the University-Oxford Airport.

Outside, a thousand Ole Miss fans or more are in full party mode, chanting, "Hotty Toddy, gosh almighty." And, yes, a few are guzzling adult beverages, as Ole Miss' famed tailgating scene has shifted from The Grove to the tarmac.

Kiffin looks around as he stretches and says very simply, "If you're scared, then don't get off this plane."

Kiffin also says maybe he is the one who should be scared because fans start to converge on the plane before he even has a chance to make his way down the stairs.

"It was like one of those movies where you look out and the aliens are closing in on you. But I love it. There's nothing like the SEC, not even close," says Kiffin, pumping his fist to the adoring fans.

Within seconds, a man holding a baby rushes up and puts the child in Kiffin's arms. As Kiffin hands the baby back, the man offers the kind of advice to Ole Miss' new head football coach that is about as SEC as it gets.

"Glad you're here. Hey, get ya a burner phone," he tells Kiffin.

Not that anybody in these parts needs to be reminded, but that was an issue for Ole Miss two head coaches ago when Hugh Freeze resigned after school officials discovered phone calls on Freeze's university-issued cellphone to a number associated with a female escort service.

Even Kiffin, rarely fazed by much of anything, is caught off guard by the man's suggestion.

"I think he was being serious," Kiffin quips. "But again, welcome back to the SEC."

About 24 hours earlier, Kiffin was addressing his Florida Atlantic players in their locker room one final time after the Owls had just put the finishing touches on their second Conference USA championship in three years with a 49-6 drubbing of UAB.

Word had already leaked out that Kiffin was leaving. In fact, FAU's practice field is located right next to the airport, so every time a plane would land, players would joke with Kiffin that it must be Arkansas or Ole Miss coming to see him.

Even so, there were plenty of tears inside the Owls' locker room when Kiffin told the coaches and players he had accepted the Ole Miss job.

"It's an opportunity I couldn't pass up, and the reason I'm getting this opportunity is because of what you did, not what I did," Kiffin told his players.

At only 44, this is Kiffin's fifth different head-coaching gig, and he said he will forever be indebted to everyone in Boca Raton for helping him discover that "it's about a lot more than just me."

As Kiffin spent those final few minutes in his old FAU office on Sunday before boarding the Ole Miss school plane, one of his players, running back BJ Emmons, who also was with the coach at Alabama, dropped by.

"Never been around anybody who instills confidence in you the way Coach Kiffin does," Emmons said.

Kiffin took one last look around his office, grabbed a picture of his three kids off his desk and headed out.

The Ole Miss plane is already waiting on Kiffin when he pulls up at the Boca Raton Executive Airport.

In addition to the pilots, others on the plane include Kiffin's parents, Monte and Robin, Ole Miss associate athletic director for communications Kyle Campbell and three of the staff members Kiffin is taking with him to Ole Miss from FAU -- running backs coach Kevin Smith, head strength coach Wilson Love and football operations staffer Hunter Greer.

Robin, decked out in a sparkling red outfit, is the first target of her son as he boards the plane.

"Mom, you think we were going to Arkansas wearing all that red?" he says.

She is used to her son's jokes by now.

"It's why we all called him LP when he was little, short for Lane the Pain," she says.

Monte, long considered one of the top defensive minds in football, isn't spared, either. Kiffin picks up his father's fold-over leather briefcase and opens it up.

"Why do you even need a briefcase, Dad?" Kiffin says, shaking his head.

The only things inside are a bunch of ink pens and countless packs of Doublemint chewing gum.

"At least the Doublemint replaced the three packs of cigarettes he used to smoke every day," Kiffin says.

Kiffin sends out his first official tweet as Ole Miss' head coach at 4:02 p.m. while the plane is in the air. It reads simply: Headed home #HottyToddy.

It's a far cry from his opening message the last time he took over an SEC team, as a 33-year-old at Tennessee. Back then, he took direct aim at Urban Meyer and top dog Florida, talking about "singing Rocky Top all night long after beating Florida in the Swamp." Kiffin slowly shakes his head at the memory.

"Nope," he says with a smile. "Calm, mature and gracious."

While scrolling Twitter, he laughs heartily at a tweet from former Ole Miss player Denzel Nkemdiche with a GIF of a Rebels player with Kiffin's face tackling an Alabama player with Nick Saban's face.

"Wouldn't be getting another shot in the SEC, though, had it not been for Coach Saban and learning what I did from him," Kiffin says.

But he already is counting down to Oct. 3, 2020, when the Crimson Tide come to town.

"He's the best, and if we're going to get to where we want to be at Ole Miss, you've got to beat the best," Kiffin says of Saban.

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Kiffin isn't really in a reflective mood on the two-hour plane ride to Oxford.

"I'm past that. I'm on to what we need to do to win in the SEC," Kiffin says.

While Smith is breaking down tape of recruits, Kiffin has a list of assistant coaching salaries from around the country laid out in front of him as he works on putting together his staff. His computer also is loaded with tape from Ole Miss' committed prospects and top targets.

"We're ready to go crush it," Kiffin says.

As the plane starts to make its final descent, the string of fans can already be seen from the sky lining the outskirts of the runway. They started lining up about the time the plane took off in Boca Raton.

Kiffin claps his hands and points to Smith and Love, who are sitting in from him.

"Game time," he barks.

After the wild greeting by fans on the tarmac, Kiffin is whisked away in an SUV with fans lining the street leaving the airport. He leans out and high-fives as many as he can, as the police escort leads him to his hotel.

(Kiffin will later joke it's a lot better than his previous tarmac experience, when he got fired from USC while at a Los Angeles airport.)

When Kiffin was stirring things up back in his Tennessee days, he would get publicly reprimanded by former SEC commissioner Mike Slive. The first voicemail he receives after checking into his executive suite at The Inn at Ole Miss is from SEC commissioner Greg Sankey welcoming him back to the conference.

"See, I'm not the troublemaker everybody makes me out to be," Kiffin says.

Once in the Manning Center, Kiffin checks out the memorabilia in the lobby and immediately goes to the display honoring Chucky Mullins, the former Ole Miss player who was paralyzed during a game in 1989, died two years later and remains one of the most beloved figures in school history.

"Love the 30 for 30 on him," the coach says.

He then notices a picture of the "Archie Who?" button and belts a big laugh. Kiffin knows his SEC history and is well aware of the Rebels' Archie Manning-led 38-0 win over No. 3 Tennessee in 1969 and the infamous question that haunts the Vols to this day.

"I know the Tennessee people love that one," he says.

Kiffin strolls into his new office for the first time flanked by his parents and begins introducing himself to everybody and asking them what they do. Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter is there to greet him, and they embrace.

"Thanks for believing in me. A lot of other ADs out there didn't," Kiffin says.

Not even an hour after Kiffin arrives on campus, a recruit and his parents stop by wanting to meet him. Told a little bit later by player personnel director Tyler Siskey that another recruit wants to come by the next morning at 6:30 to meet Kiffin, he chortles, "Damn, 6:30, those are Saban hours. Let's do it."

Kiffin is back at the Manning Center bright and early on Monday morning. His meeting with one of the top high school prospects in the state is followed by his first staff meeting. Already, Kiffin has informed some coaches on the previous staff that they won't be retained, and they're not in the meeting.

"So if you're in here, that means I've heard good things and want to at least talk, but no guarantees," Kiffin says. "But protect yourselves too. This is a business."

Kiffin also praises the staff, including former head coach Matt Luke, for assembling a roster full of promising young talent.

"That's a big part of the reason I'm here, the way you guys and Matt built this roster, and what set this job apart from other opportunities I had," Kiffin says.

Blunt and to the point, Kiffin makes it known that he isn't looking for yes men and wants coaches who will challenge him.

"I want your opinion, not my opinion repeated back to me. It's not going to be that kind of environment here. Maybe at other places, but not here," Kiffin says.

Defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre then offers his insight on a player the Rebels are recruiting and mentions that he likes his length and ability to run.

Right on cue, Kiffin cuts his eyes at MacIntyre and jokes, "I disagree. You're out of here."

About that time, Monte comes into the staff meeting. Hampered by a bad back, he walks with that familiar (and painful-looking) limp and finds a chair. He will serve as a defensive analyst, similar to his role at FAU.

"What time does the staff meeting start?" Kiffin chirps.

"They told me 9:20," Monte responds.

Kiffin counters, "Well, you're late for your first staff meeting."

The reality is that Kiffin and his dad have a terrific rapport and that nobody has been more supportive of Kiffin than his father.

"Like all of us, Lane has learned along the way," Monte says. "He had a lot thrown at him at an age when most of us were doing things and saying things we regretted later."

As he leaves the staff meeting, Kiffin lights up at the sight of his three children, Landry, Presley and Knox, who flew in from California that morning. Shortly thereafter, more than 4,000 fans fill the Ole Miss Pavilion for Kiffin's formal introduction on Monday, and Carter leads Kiffin and his family through the tunnel onto the stage.

"We needed a jump-start, and this has been the perfect storm with Lane," says Carter, who was an All-American basketball player at Ole Miss in the late 1990s.

A few players already had dropped by to meet Kiffin earlier in the day. But his first full team meeting is later that afternoon, when he talks about the importance of making investments versus sacrifices.

"We don't have a lot of rules. The first rule is to protect the team, because that covers all kinds of things," Kiffin says.

He also makes it abundantly clear he doesn't care about anything that has happened in the past.

"I don't give a s--- whether you're a five-star or no-star," Kiffin says. "I wasn't hired here to play favorites. The best players are going to play, and we came here because we believe this can be a championship program. Starting now, everything counts."

Kiffin introduces Smith and Love to the players, and it is the fiery Love -- who goes 100 mph every second of every day -- who really revs things up.

"I'm going to bring my all. I'm here for you," Love adds. "I'm going to take the door off of my office. Already got a screwdriver and everything!"

A few minutes later, Kiffin returns to his office. He has barely slept over the past three days, but there's no time to stop now.

He is about to hit the road recruiting, hoping to lock down some prospects in Memphis, Tennessee, which will be a critical area for the Rebels.

Welcome back to the SEC.