New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has always tried to keep a close connection and open line of communication with coaches in the college ranks. Alabama’s Nick Saban is the most prominent example, but there are plenty of others as well — from Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, to Georgia’s Kirby Smart, to, apparently, Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin.
The latter recently appeared on an episode of the Pat McAfee Show to give some insight into the pre-draft process. One of the questions asked was about NFL personnel calling their college-level counterparts to find out more about draft prospects.
Turns out that this is not happening as much as one would expect.
“We get some calls. Probably not as much as you’d think,” said Kiffin. “No disrespect, I think a lot of people in the NFL think, ‘OK, well, we’ve got it figured out. We don’t need opinions from college guys.’ That may sound crazy to you, but that does happen.”
A former quarterbacks coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars and head coach for the then-Oakland Raiders, Kiffin spent most of his coaching career at the collegiate level. He served as head coach at USC, Florida Atlantic and, since last year, Ole Miss, and also worked as Alabama’s offensive coordinator under Nick Saban.
Along the way, he also got to communicate with one of the few NFL executives to actually get in touch with college coaches while scouting college players.
“I know there’s guys like Belichick. I remember a guy going in like the third round, the night before the draft he called me to ask my opinion on him. Not even a first-round pick. Some people do it, and I think a lot of people don’t,” Kiffin said.
“The really good ones like him... He’s so smart, he’ll call and say — I remember it was a tight end. He was like, ‘OK, I remember you had Zach Miller 10 years ago with the Raiders, or whatever it was. How do you compare him to him?’ That’s how smart he is, to be able to remember who you had and players you were around compare them to. That’s why he’s so great at that.”
Belichick’s reliance on college contacts has served the Patriots well through the years, but it has reportedly also led to some notable misses. Among the most prominent, at least two years into his pro career, is wide receiver N’Keal Harry.
Harry, according to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, ended up in New England in part because of Belichick’s relationship with then-Arizona State head coach Todd Graham (who was rumored to join the Patriots staff in 2018 but eventually ended up without a new gig until 2020):
Harry killed his 30 visit that spring and had a college coach, Todd Graham, who was close to Belichick. In that end, without more input from scouts who preferred Deebo Samuel and A.J. Brown, the coach wound up leaning on his own experience with Harry, rather than the red flags his scouts planted, and lost a golden opportunity to fill a hole on his roster.
How Belichick’s communication with the college ranks will look like under the reported “new-look” approach the Patriots are taking to the draft remains to be seen, but it would not be a surprise if it still remained a prominent part of evaluation — one that other teams are apparently not as interested in obtaining as New England.
As for Kiffin, he might get another call from Belichick in the coming weeks. Three Ole Miss prospects are realistic candidates to hear their names called during the draft: wide receiver Elijah Moore, tight end Kenny Yeboah and offensive lineman Royce Newman.