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Lawsuit: Lane Kiffin Berated And Abused Ole Miss Player For Taking Mental Health Break Amid Crisis

Lane Kiffin wears a visor and holds a football.
Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

What does Ole Miss head football coach and upward-failing legacy baby Lane Kiffin think about a college student who, when in a mental health crisis, requests and then takes a two-week break from participating in football activities? Well, he thinks the player is, to use Kiffin's own words, "a pussy" who is "hiding behind shit." Also, he thinks that the player is his employee, and can be fired.

This is all contained in a lawsuit filed Thursday by senior Ole Miss defensive lineman DeSanto Rollins, naming Ole Miss and Kiffin as defendants. Rollins, who was recruited to the Rebels by Kiffin's predecessor and whose college football career has been largely ruined by injuries, says an Achilles injury suffered in 2022 and the subsequent aggravation of a left knee injury from earlier in his career "led to severe depression, anxiety, frustration, feelings of worthlessness, sadness, embarrassment, humiliation, loss of sleep, and loss of appetite," which went unacknowledged and unaddressed. According to Rollins, this was at least in part because Ole Miss football staff, team trainers, and the university athletic department failed to provide "mental health educational materials," in violation of stated NCAA principles, formalized NCAA best practices, and legislation adopted in 2019 requiring member institutions to make "mental health services and resources" available to students.

It was after the ruined 2022 season that Rollins says Ole Miss coaches began pressuring him to enter the transfer portal and go someplace else, allegedly warning him in an exit meeting that he was a poor fit for how Ole Miss is "wired," and that if he stayed he would "just be here," but would not have an opportunity to play. Rollins declined to transfer. Two months later, in January, Rollins's grandmother died; in February, while he claims he was still suffering from "deep depression," Kiffin pulled Rollins into a meeting to discuss his future with the team. According to the lawsuit (embedded at the bottom of the post), Kiffin used this meeting to essentially force Rollins to either quit or transfer to another program. This meeting is described in detail in a tort claims demand letter sent by Rollins's attorneys to Ole Miss and Kiffin on May 3, and attached to the lawsuit:

Coach Kiffin started the meeting by saying, "this will be a harsh meeting." Coach Kiffin informed Mr. Rollins that he was about to do what his assistant coaches were afraid to do in prior meetings. He informed Mr. Rollins that he had asked Coach Joyner to get him to transfer, but Mr. Rollins's family wanted him to stay. Coach Kiffin told Mr. Rollins that because of that, Kiffin was going to move Rollins to the Offensive Line to be on the Scout team. Coach Kiffin told Mr. Rollins that UM was low on bodies on the offensive line. When Mr. Rollins asked Coach Kiffin, "was it a choice or a command," Coach Kiffin shouted, "he was the coach and Mr. Rollins was the player, and if he did not like it, he could quit." Mr. Rollins told Kiffin that "quitting was not an option."

Coach Kiffin acknowledged that the other coaches were too nice at the exit meeting, "then get mad in the end when they do not get what they want." As Coach Kiffin continued to yell and scream, he informed Mr. Rollins how other players find success at other places because they did not meet the criteria at bigger schools. Coach Kiffin continued to scream, encouraging Mr. Rollins to transfer or quit.

It was during this meeting, according to the lawsuit, that Rollins says he decided that he needed a "mental health break from football and the UM coaching staff," a suggestion that Kiffin allegedly ignored. After the meeting Rollins communicated this to the team's strength and conditioning coach, and Rollins's mother informed UM head athletic trainer Pat Jernigan. On March 1, Rollins learned that Kiffin wanted another meeting. Feeling that Kiffin was a significant source of the anxiety that was causing the ongoing mental health crisis that necessitated the break, Rollins declined. Rollins says the coaching staff continued to pressure him to meet with Kiffin, until, on March 21, he finally agreed to meet Kiffin in the head coach's office. This time, Rollins made a lawful audio recording of their exchange. Kiffin began the meeting by asking Rollins if, after "two weeks of not showing up," Rollins was now ready to quit the team.

Rollins: What do you mean, "two weeks of not showing up"?

Kiffin: You haven't been here for two weeks.

Rollins: I told Coach Savage I was going to take a mental break.

Kiffin: OK, you have a fucking head coach, this is a job. Guess what? If I have mental issues—and I'm not diminishing them—I can't not see my fucking boss, when you were told again and again the head coach needs to see you. Wasn't to make you practice, wasn't to play a position you don't fucking want to, OK, it was to talk to you and explain to you: In the real world—OK, so, I don't give a fuck what your mom says, OK, or what you think—in the real fucking world you show up to work. And then you say, Hey, I have mental issues, OK, I can't do anything for two weeks, but if you change my position I won't have mental issues. I guarantee if we fucking called you in and said you're playing defense, would you have mental issues?

Rollins: Definitely would.

Bear in mind always as you read this that this is a 48-year-old millionaire head coach talking to a 22-year-old college kid who is struggling with depression and anxiety. It gets worse!

Kiffin: No, would you have been at practice? Would you have skipped two weeks of workouts?

Rollins: Why are you calling it skipping?

Kiffin: Well, what is it?

Rollins: I took a mental break.

Kiffin: OK. Hey Keith Carter, I'm not going to show up to work the next two weeks. Oh, you want to meet with me? No, I'm not going to meet with you. [Slams phone] Fired!

Rollins: I mean, you're acting like my issues aren't real.

Kiffin: I didn't say they're not real. OK, I didn't say they are not real. You show up when your head—when your boss wants to meet with you. And I mean it wouldn't have been like this, it would've been like, OK, if you would've come here. When you kept getting messages the head coach wants to talk to you, you say, "I'm not ready to talk to him."

Rollins: I wasn't.

Kiffin: Well what fucking world do you live in?

Rollins: I don't see why you have to be disrespectful, honestly.

Kiffin: Get out of here. Go, go, you're off the team and you're done. See ya. See ya ... See ya. Go, go, and guess what? We can kick you off the team. So go read your fucking rights about mental health. We can kick you off the team for not showing up when the head coach asks to meet with you and you don't show up for weeks. OK, we can remove you from the team.

Rollins: Alright.

Kiffin: It's called being a pussy. It's called hiding behind shit, and not showing up to work. You show up when your boss—so when you have a real job, OK, someday, and your boss says, "Hey, come in and meet," I advise you to go meet with him, and not say, "No, I'm not ready to meet with my boss, maybe a few weeks from now."

Lane Kiffin, bozo failson of a famous and successful football coach, was hired as a student assistant coach and then a graduate assistant immediately at the conclusion of his own college playing career, and has never worked outside of football in his adult life. Even when he's basically correct about the cruelties of working in the "real world," no one should ever do Kiffin the courtesy of participating in the fiction that he has spent a moment of his life out in it.

Rollins says in his lawsuit that the extremely shitty treatment he received at Ole Miss constitutes a violation of the Civil Rights Act and of Title IX, and he is seeking compensatory and punitive damages totaling $40 million. The complaint is below, if that's your kind of thing.

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