OXFORD, Miss. -- It was a long road back, even by Lane Kiffin's own admission, but he's once again an SEC head coach and ready to take his shot at some of the top teams in college football.
Kiffin was introduced Monday as Ole Miss' head coach and said he was eager to put down roots and leave a legacy at the school.
"I know this league very well," said Kiffin, who at 44 is embarking on his fifth different head-coaching venture. "I have worked with many of the head coaches in this league and have a ton of respect for them and their programs, but I've been studying them for the past three seasons, studied them schematically, have spoken to a lot of coaches, have done clinics at their schools. I've been on a mission to know why these programs are successful and how to beat them.
"I've watched them play big-time SEC games, SEC championship games, playoff games and national championship games. It hurt me and it motivated me, and it drove me to improve. I've worked hard to get back, and I've got something to prove."
Kiffin, whose contract at Ole Miss will pay him an average of $4.2 million per year, told ESPN that it's a much different version of the Kiffin who stormed into the SEC 11 years ago at Tennessee picking fights with Hall of Fame coaches and taking brashness to a whole different level.
"I think I've matured a lot and understand it's not about me, but about getting the most out of the players, helping them grow and making it an experience we can all be proud of," Kiffin said. "We all want to win, and there are different ways to do that. I've been so fortunate to learn under two of the best in Nick Saban and Pete Carroll, both of whom have won championships but have much different styles. I've taken the parts of those styles that fit me and blended them together."
Kiffin is certainly no stranger to the SEC. He was Tennessee's head coach in a drama-filled 2009 season before leaving for the USC head job and then worked under Nick Saban as Alabama's offensive coordinator from 2014-16.
"We are here to compete for championships, play an exciting brand of football, do it the right way and have a great time doing it," said Kiffin, renowned for poking fun at anybody and everybody on Twitter, even former bosses such as Saban.
During his news conference, he even poked fun at himself. Asked about the wild reception by Ole Miss fans on the tarmac of the local Oxford airport when he arrived Sunday night, Kiffin cracked, "It was a lot better than another tarmac experience I had."
Kiffin was famously fired by then-USC athletic director Pat Haden on the tarmac after a loss by the Trojans in 2013. He was 28-15 in three-plus seasons at USC before going to work at Alabama under Saban as offensive coordinator.
"There's football and then there's SEC football," Kiffin said.
Kiffin's parents, Monte and Robin Kiffin, also flew in on the Ole Miss school plane on Sunday and were at the news conference. So were Kiffin's three children, Landry, Presley and Knox, and their mother and Kiffin's former wife, Layla.
Kiffin, who led Florida Atlantic to two Conference USA championships in his three seasons in Boca Raton, was also heavily courted by Arkansas. But he said Ole Miss' tradition, the passion of the fan base and what he called an impressive array of young talent on the roster was too hard to pass up. More than 1,000 fans greeted him at the local Oxford airport on Sunday night when he flew in from South Florida, and one fan even rushed up and had Kiffin hold his infant baby.
"I'm proud of what we accomplished at FAU with the two conference championships, but something was missing," Kiffin said.
Among the talented younger players returning at Ole Miss is quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, who as a true freshman led the Rebels in rushing with 1,023 yards and 12 touchdowns and also passed for 910 yards and four touchdowns. Kiffin has been able to win with an array of different quarterbacks. He's been a part of five conference championships over the past six years with five different starting quarterbacks.
Kiffin is still in the process of completing his staff, but brought running backs coach Kevin Smith and strength coach Wilson Love with him from Florida Atlantic. Monte Kiffin will help out as a defensive analyst, a role Monte also filled at FAU.
"We didn't come here to be good. We came here to be great," Kiffin said.
Kiffin replaces Matt Luke at Ole Miss and becomes the Rebels' fourth different head coach in the past 10 seasons. Luke, who played at Ole Miss, was fired after just three seasons as head coach. He was the Rebels' interim head coach in 2017 before being named their permanent head coach. Luke was 15-21 as Ole Miss' head coach, including a 4-8 finish this season.