From the day Mike Leach was hired at Mississippi State back in January – one month after Lane Kiffin was named the new head coach at Ole Miss – November has been on the minds of many. A Leach-Kiffin Egg Bowl is a game with box-office appeal.
Well Saturday, the day will have finally arrived. The Bulldogs and Rebels are set to square off at 3 p.m. central in Oxford. It'll of course be the first meeting between the schools since last year's showdown in Starkville when Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore's leg-hiking, unsportsmanlike conduct penalty cost the Rebels a chance to win the game and set off a series of events that led to two of the biggest names in college coaching taking over the Magnolia State's most prominent programs.
Here's a twist though. In a rivalry where animosity is as common as humidity during a Mississippi summer, the head man of the Bulldogs and the leader of the Rebels go into this year's matchup as...friends???
"The worst thing – especially this day and age and in coaching or in life or anytime you're doing something as repetitious as football – you try to avoid as many boring people as you can and Lane's not boring," Leach said of Kiffin on Monday. "So I've always been excited to spend time with him."
Time will only tell whether Leach or Kiffin enjoys the time they share with each other this weekend. Egg Bowls have a way of quickly getting emotions boiling over.
Remember it was only a couple of years back when former State head coach Joe Moorhead coached his first game against Ole Miss. The Rebels were in their second year under then-head coach Matt Luke. After an intense few years with Hugh Freeze at the helm of Ole Miss and Dan Mullen overseeing MSU that saw both teams achieve national prominence and the Rebels undergo an NCAA investigation that resulted in penalties, it was thought that the Luke-Moorhead Egg Bowls might take the volume down a notch in the rivalry.
So much for that. There was a mid-game fight between the two rosters in 2018. Then last year, Moore's emotions got the best of him, somewhat emphasizing that it doesn't seem to matter who coaches these two teams. The game always has some combustable potential.
Kiffin was asked on Monday if he'd spoken to Leach about keeping things under control this year as they get indoctrinated into the rivalry.
"I have not," Kiffin said. "We both have to manage our teams. We'll talk a lot to our team as we get closer to the game about playing with great composure."
History has repeatedly shown that's easier said than done. Such is life in a game that means so much to many in the state of Mississippi. It's a state where where from Southaven to the coast and from the Delta to the Alabama state line, Rebel fans and Bulldog supporters are often together. At work, school or church – sometimes even inside the same home – those one-year bragging rights are everything. Leach and Kiffin might be new to it all, but the magnitude of the game doesn't seem lost on them.
"I do know that over the years, even as I was a kid, I know it was always an incredibly intense game," Leach said. "I know it's very meaningful to people and I know that it’s in conversation all year round. Everyday. There’s not a day that I don’t hear somebody mention the Egg Bowl."
Says Kiffin: "When it's instate, it's a big deal. People talk about it impacting recruiting, which it can. Two new coaches. This is a big game."
And when it's all said and done? Well, it certainly seems like a logical guess that Leach and Kiffin might have the type of relationship in which they might could even crack a joke or two at each other and have some one-year bragging rights of their own at the other's expense.
After all, not long after the two coaches were in their new jobs, Kiffin suggested to Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger that Kiffin had developed a side bet for himself and Leach– whoever lost the Egg Bowl had to foot the bill for a plane to take both men back to their Florida vacation homes after the season.
Kiffin and Leach later put their friendship on display in front of everyone over the summer. As the two men joined with their schools at the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson to lobby for a state flag change (that later indeed happened), one of the more memorable moments was when Leach grabbed Kiffin's facemask he was wearing and gave it a snap.
So what's the genesis of this relationship that was forged long before either man sat foot on Mississippi soil? Well Leach says the common thread is Kiffin's dad.
"I guess we both know (Lane's father) Monte (Kiffin)," Leach said. "Lane knew Monte Kiffin first and then I met Monte. Monte introduced me to Lane, so, I guess we’re both mutual friends with Monte. That kind of brought us together. Just over the years seeing him around coaching and spending time with him, I mean he’s an enjoyable guy."
Given both mens' current employers, it seems like an uncommon bond for sure. We'll all see if it lasts or if the longstanding heat of the MSU-Ole Miss rivalry frays the relationship in any way. But if 2020 has taught us anything, it's to expect the unexpected. So why not have the coaches of the Bulldogs and Rebels putting at least a touch of friendliness on the Battle for the Golden Egg?
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