Michael Wilbon Credit: Pardon the Interruption

Lane Kiffin certainly didn’t endear himself to college football fans for much of his coaching career. The son of iconic coach Monty Kiffin, Lane was seen as a classic nepotism case when he shot up the ranks to become head coach of the Los Angeles Raiders in 2007. That stint went pretty poorly and his one season as the head coach in Tennessee is not remembered fondly either. Lane managed to find brief success at USC until that came crashing down around him as well. At the time, public opinion against Kiffin as a program leader was about as low as it gets.

But a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity. Kiffin rejuvenated his career as part of Nick Saban’s coaching staff, helping the Crimson Tide win a national title. He then parlayed that into a head coaching gig with Florida Atlantic where the Owls went 26-13 in three seasons, including two bowl appearances. Kiffin then turned that into another shot in the SEC, taking over as head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels in 2020. In his second season there, Lane is taking a conference bottom-feeder and making them seem relevant once more, starting this year at 3-0 heading into this weekend’s huge showdown with Saban’s Bama.

All the while, Kiffin has finally figured out the formula that makes him, somehow, likable. He uses his seemingly smug demeanor to his advantage and walks the precarious between over-the-top swagger and carnival barker like a pro.

All of which is to say that, in spite of everything that happened before 2014, the years since have been kind to Kiffin, his reputation, and his standing in the college football world.

You wouldn’t know that from Mike Wilbon, who decided to lit Kiffin up with a rant right out of 2009 about how he’s an “embarrassment” everywhere he goes.


“Lane Kiffin’s a clown,” said Wilbon, “Lane Kiffin has been an embarrassment at multiple stops. Nobody’s gonna run out there saying yeah I want Lane Kiffin right here on the logo representing me…Lane Kiffin’s a cute little story for guys like us who have to talk about sports every day…Lane Kiffin equals embarrassment at some point wherever he is.”

Wilbon has been accused of being out of touch before and, well, that’s pretty apropos here as well. As noted above, Kiffin has resurrected his reputation as well as any college football coach in the nation right now. And in terms of a school not wanting Kiffin’s name on their logo (which, is that a thing?), Kiffin took over an Ole Miss team that went 4-8 in 2019 and has them ranked No. 12 in the nation right now. So, uh, yeah, pretty sure a LOT of schools would love that.

Plenty of folks in the college football community certainly disagreed with Wilbon as well.

The take eventually made its way back to Kiffin himself, who took the high road and cemented the easy win.

It’s a real shame this take happened to pop up the same week ESPN is celebrating Pardon the Interruption for its 20th anniversary. While the show was a trailblazer in many ways, it can feel out of touch and irrelevant these days, especially when it comes to topics that aren’t the host’s bread and butter. Wilbon’s take here fits perfectly with that legacy, for better or worse.

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to sean@thecomeback.com.