*CHOO-CHOO!* “Attention all passages, we here at Fox Sports Knoxville hope you have had a wonderful and stress free ride today. The weather at your destination is a full week of speculation with a slight chance of rain throughout the day. We look frward to your return to us, and we hope you have a very great time at your destination. Again, thank you very much for riding THE LANE TRAIN today!”
Other than names that involve “Gruden” and “Kelly,” is there more hype around a coaching candidate with ties to the University of Tennessee than Lane Kiffin? For weeks now, Kiffin’s name has been tied back to the program during talks as Butch Jones’ inevitable end at Tennessee approached.
He took over as head coach at Tennessee in 2009 only to leave the school the following season as he packed up for his dream job at the University of Southern California.
Sparing the details of the next seven years, we jump to the year 2017 and the month of November, where Tennessee has just fired Butch Jones and is currently without a head coach, while Lane Kiffin is currently at a transition school in Florida Atlantic.
So, could a Lane Kiffin reunion really be in the works for Tennessee? .
It’s no secret that Lane Kiffin would shake this program and this university down to its very core if athletic director John Currie decides to invest in him.
Is it a good fit for Tennessee? Maybe. Regardless, Kiffin has standout abilities that aren’t deniable. For instance, Kiffin has one of the most electric and enticing personalities in all of sports. I have no doubt that whatever Power 5 team Kiffin is hired at, he will play and coach like he has something to prove, which can be very dangerous for opposing coaches and teams.
Kiffin could come back to Tennessee and provide a much-needed spark of swagger. There’s something about having Lane Kiffin lead your team that just screams “we aren’t afraid of anyone,” and that’s exactly what his attitude is. In 2009 he only lost to No. 1 Alabama with an unranked Vols team by three points (*shakes fist at sky, mumbles “Mount Cody…”*), and that right there is quite impressive.
When at USC from 2010-2014, Lane recruited at an elite level. His classes were in the top 10 every year except 2013, when they finished at No. 13. Whatever he was selling the players on in Southern Cal, they were certainly buying in.
If Kiffin could recruit at the level he did in California, I’d be fairly confident he could have paralleled success as a coach in the south again.
While Kiffin was the offensive coordinator for Alabama from 2014-2016, the Crimson Tide had one of the best and most efficient offenses in the country.
Last season, Alabama threw for more than 3,100 yards and ran for nearly 3,700 yards behind the lead of a freshman quarterback. And everyone knew that even with a Nick Saban-led team, Kiffin was part of the mastermind behind such a prolific offense.
During his tenure at Alabama, Kiffin worked with quarterbacks Blake Sims, Jake Coker and now Jalen Hurts. While Coker was the only one to win a national title, Sims won an SEC title and Hurts was a national runner-up last year before another strong campaign this year.
All that being just goes to show Kiffin’s ability to develop quarterbacks. Coker, Sims, and Hurts all have their different strengths, and Lane was able to manipulate the offense from year to year to fit the needs for each, while keeping a high production level.
One has to wonder what Kiffin could’ve done with Joshua Dobbs, Quinten Dormady or Jarrett Guarantano over that same amount of time…
So let’s get organized here — Lane Kiffin excels in personality and excitement, he is a quality recruiter who is familiar with the area, is a brilliant offensive mastermind and can develop players well, something Tennessee fans haven’t seen in quite some time. Sounds pretty good to me!
Does no one remember when Tennessee was left behind by Kiffin in 2009? It wasn’t mutual, and it wasn’t on good terms.
He abandoned the program and its fans, and left it borderline unfixable for years. BUT, not only did he leave the program, he actively recruited Tennessee’s players over to USC with him.
If the fans are still holding a grudge against Kiffin (which I assume many people are), his hiring would make for an an unpleasant atmosphere that would inevitably devide the Vols’ fanbase from day one with the “Loyalists vs. Win-At-All-Costers” civil war.
This makes me question his loyalty, and I’m far from the first or the last to ever question that too.
Over the past few weeks, Kiffin has even been tweeting from his own personal twitter account about schools, teams, even job openings all over the country, even if it is just humorous. But, humorous or not, his loyalty to the Owls is in strong question.
How many fans want a head coach that seems to be highly invested in other teams while at a school? A guy who’s using Twitter in ways almost all other accomplished head coaches are not. And if you want to say “Well that’s FAU and this is Tennessee!”, all I have to do is remind you about eight short years ago again.
But, in the world of being a good sport, we wont only look at his off the field issues for this part. His stats, although many of them good, come mostly in the terms of team stats like overall offensive production. Here are some interesting tidbits about his career as a head coach pre-dating this year:
- Kiffin went 35-21 over his four years at Tennessee and USC, boasting an underwhelming 62 percent win percentage
- Kiffin started out in the Top 25 rankings all four years at USC. By the end of each season, he completely dropped out of the Top 25 twice (‘10, ’12). In 2011, USC moved up 19 spots in the rankings, but in 2013 the Trojans only moved up from 24 to 19 by the season’s end
- Kiffin is an unimpressive 0-4 in his bowl games as a head coach
Last but not least, the biggest thing that worries me about Kiffin is that he has never left a college program on good terms in the past 10+ years since his departure from Tennessee.
He left Tennessee in a shattered pile of rubble that had to be pieced together by Derek Dooley in 2011. Kiffin was fired in 2014 by USC after internal trouble between him and the administration. And lastly and most recently, Kiffin was fired from Alabama following their College Football Playoff victory over Washington after accepting the Florida Atlantic job.
Maybe it’s coincidence, but something about that just feels completely off in my book.
At the end of the day, hiring Lane Kiffin would cause a splash that would send ripples across the country that says, “Tennessee is back, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.” That’s great and all because of Kiffin’s radiant persona, but who is confident that he will stay to finish that accusation out? What if a better job opens up after an inaugural 5-7 season from Tennessee?
My biggest fear in hiring Kiffin would be glorfying such a cheap trick act. He’s often glorified in these parts because of his outlandish behavior and personality, and there are many people who are clamoring for his Rocky Top arrival because of it.
Personally, if I wanted a cheap trick, I would just go listen to the song “Surrender” or “I Want You to Want Me.” Kiffin is a quality coach, and I’m not trying to dispute that. And yes, Knoxville would be a circus if he was hired, and I would want to be there for every second of it.
But, in the spirit of Tennessee winning football games, Lane Kiffin is an unproven head coach and an unreliable person when contributing to a football team. I think there are guys who are better coaches, and I think there are guys with better gimmicks than Kiffin currently has. And for that reason, I will not be buying a ticket onto the Lane Train for the 2018 Tennessee Volunteers football season.
HIRE RANKING: 6/10