Auburn football or Ole Miss? Lane Kiffin makes sure we can't look away. Imagine that | Toppmeyer

Blake Toppmeyer

I found myself in need of a translator after Lane Kiffin tweeted in a pictorial language I don’t fully comprehend.

The Ole Miss coach pressed send on a Monday night message that included four cryptic emojis. As Kiffin continued tweeting into the night, we gained little clarity on his future, but this master of publicity commanded our attention.

Imagine that.

Kiffin is widely viewed as a top target in Auburn’s coaching search, and speculation reached a fever pitch Monday evening after WCBI-TV’s Jon Sokoloff, citing sources, reported that Kiffin plans to leave Ole Miss for Auburn after the Egg Bowl, although no official offer had been made, according to Sokoloff.

College football’s most enigmatic coach responded with a series of tweets mocking Sokoloff and casting speculation on his report, without outright refuting it or pledging allegiance to the Rebels.

Since Auburn fired Bryan Harsin on Oct. 31, Kiffin has repeatedly said he’s happy at Ole Miss, but he’s never strongly rejected the prospect of an exit for Auburn. Sokoloff’s report sent Kiffin to his favorite social medium, where he provided a few laughs but continued opacity.

“That’s news to me Jon,” Kiffin tweeted in response to Sokoloff’s report. “Nice sources.”

Kiffin, 47, then included four emojis: a slash-through-a-red-circle no sign, a frowning devil, a chair, and a dinner plate with utensils.

If Kiffin’s message had included “covfefe,” I would have thought our former president had hijacked his phone, but knowing Kiffin was at the keyboard, I figured his flurry of dispatches may contain some shrouded meaning.

The college coaching profession attracts few Aristotles. Kiffin, though, is a zig in an industry of zags.

He’s a thinker who doesn’t paint-by-numbers. Witty, but not gregarious. Soft-spoken, but opinionated. He makes decisions based on analytical data in a profession that mostly embraces following your gut. His preferred language is a mix of soulful introspection, wisecracks and emojis. He’s a riddle wrapped in a tweet.

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Predicting Kiffin’s moves are a fool’s errand, other than to know he’ll always keep you on your toes.

Meanwhile, Rebels players and the future of the Ole Miss program hangs in the balance.

Are there reasons to stay at Ole Miss? Sure.

He’s the big fish in Mississippi's pond. He possesses job security and administrative support. He’s winning at a clip rarely seen at Ole Miss, and he could have the Rebels competing in the College Football Playoff after it expands to 12 teams.

Could I see Kiffin bolting for Auburn? Sure.

Kiffin’s barrage of tweets may amount to little more than subterfuge and frustration after a news leak before Ole Miss’ game against Mississippi State.

Kiffin’s exit would be a stinging snub of Ole Miss. Athletics director Keith Carter awarded Kiffin a lifeline back to an SEC head coaching position. Carter’s gamble to hire this clever firebrand paid off. Kiffin combined a high-powered offense with transfer portal raids to uplift Ole Miss to an elevated rank, including a Sugar Bowl appearance last season.

At the onset of Auburn’s coaching search, I wrote that Kiffin should be Candidate A. I can see why Kiffin’s interest would be mutual, even though Auburn is mired in back-to-back losing seasons.

Money buys talent – both coaches and players – and Auburn is no pauper. Plus, AU historically offers a higher ceiling of greatness than Ole Miss, although the Rebels currently rest on a loftier perch, thanks in no small part to Kiffin.

Auburn’s reputation for meddlesome boosters is a potential drawback, but booster involvement can be rebranded into an asset in an era when recruiting ability is connected to the size of your NIL war chest. Auburn resides in Alabama’s shadow, but Kiffin is a magnet for the spotlight.

If Kiffin leaves for Auburn, he'll be more likely to be fired within four years. He'll also be more likely to win a national championship. A classic risk-reward scenario.

Jettisoning an SEC job for a glitzier opportunity would be a move from the Kiffin playbook, too. At age 35, he departed Tennessee after one season for Southern Cal, his “dream job.”

Curiously, Sokoloff’s Monday report included that Kiffin planned to resign from Ole Miss on Friday. Such timing would be puzzling. Wouldn’t Auburn prefer to keep the focus on Saturday's Iron Bowl and delay any Kiffin news until at least Sunday? Typically, when one school plunders another’s coach, no grandiose resignation occurs. The exiting coach just bolts and resurfaces at his new job.

And yet, Kiffin departed Tennessee in a notoriously unusual manner. He called a late-night news conference at UT to announce his departure while students protested in campus demonstrations.

Overnight in Tennessee, Kiffin went from wunderkind to pariah. If Kiffin doubles down by jilting Ole Miss in this manner, he’d set a new standard for trolling.

Kiffin tweeted a photo of him reading a book on the Egg Bowl, three days before Ole Miss' rivalry game. He poked fun at Sokoloff. He created enough of a smokescreen to make you think he’s staying put, that this productive union with Ole Miss hasn’t reached its conclusion.

But Kiffin’s past suggests he always has a bag packed for the next leg of a journey that’s always captivating and never predictable. 

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.

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