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Lane Kiffin, Mike Leach elevate Egg Bowl status, but how long will each stay? | Toppmeyer

Blake Toppmeyer
USA TODAY NETWORK

Three coaches came to mind after Florida announced its firing of coach Dan Mullen on Sunday: Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin, Oregon’s Mario Cristobal and Louisiana’s Billy Napier.

I don’t know who the candidates are on Florida’s shortlist to replace Mullen, but if the list doesn’t include those three names, then Gators athletics director Scott Stricklin should make some revisions.

No. 8 Ole Miss (9-2, 5-2 SEC) and Mississippi State (7-4, 4-3) will meet in the Egg Bowl on Thursday (6:30 p.m. CT, ESPN) in Starkville, and the game carries heightened significance. The players know it.

"It actually means something this year,” Ole Miss running back Jerrion Ealy said.

The Egg Bowl means something every year, but I get Ealy’s point. This year’s installment means something on the grander stage.

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The Rebels would remain positioned for possible Sugar Bowl selection with a victory Thursday. If the Bulldogs win, they’d secure a winning conference record for the first time since 2014 and improve their positioning for a Florida bowl bid.

Credit Kiffin and Mississippi State’s Mike Leach, a pair of second-year coaches, for elevating this bitter rivalry to a more prominent rung.

As long as Kiffin and Leach are involved, the Egg Bowl should be one of the SEC’s premier matchups each season. But how long will that be?

The coaching carousel is spinning at full tilt. Several attractive jobs are open, including Florida, LSU and Southern Cal, which rank as top-15 jobs within college football.

Combine Kiffin’s job-hopping track record with the Rebels’ success, and it’s no wonder many view Kiffin as a candidate for the LSU and Florida openings. Heck, considering it’s Kiffin, I’m not convinced we can rule out a return to USC. Kiffin’s agent Jimmy Sexton is an expert at getting his clients’ names in front of hiring ADs.

Anyone questioning Kiffin’s coaching acumen is in denial. In hindsight, Kiffin got too much ridicule for going 28-15 in 3½ seasons at USC amid difficult circumstances after the NCAA hammered the Trojans with penalties for rules violations that occurred under coach Pete Carroll.

Kiffin polished his résumé by modernizing Alabama’s offense in three seasons as a coordinator under Nick Saban, won two Conference USA championships during a three-year stretch at Florida Atlantic, and the Rebels have a chance this season to reach 11 victories for the first time in program history.

Despite his success, it takes a certain kind of AD to hire Kiffin, who is a magnet for attention. Any AD considering Kiffin must be comfortable with a football coach who doubles as a sort of celebrity. Plus, Kiffin has not stayed put long enough to show he can win with longevity in one place. His longest head coaching tenure came at USC, the lone college job from which he was fired.

Ole Miss and Kiffin can have a happy marriage if he stays. The Rebels benefit from the spotlight Kiffin pulls in, while Kiffin enjoys relative job security inside college football’s most prominent conference. Coaching Ole Miss doesn't come with the same level of scrutiny as LSU or Florida.

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The ceiling for success is higher at Florida and LSU, but the falls from grace occur at warp speed. LSU’s Ed Orgeron was fired a year and a half after winning a national championship. Florida reached New Year’s Six bowl games each of the past three seasons under Mullen before firing him after his tenure soured the past two months.

While Kiffin elevated Ole Miss to New Year's Six contention in two years, Leach gives the Bulldogs an opportunity for long-term stability, because he doesn’t change jobs at Kiffin’s rate.

Leach, 60, never had a losing season in 11 years at Texas Tech, and the Red Raiders enjoyed their most prolonged success in program history during his tenure. Leach followed that with four winning seasons and six bowl bids in eight seasons at Washington State.

Smaller markets suit Leach's idiosyncrasies, and he could make Mississippi State his final stop.

What’s to keep Kiffin at Ole Miss long-term instead of eyeing a move up the ladder?

“That huge buyout they keep putting in (his contract),” Kiffin said with deadpan wit when I asked him that question in June. 

Buyouts don’t stop interested ADs who have cash to burn.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.