About 14 months ago Lane Kiffin made a pact with the University of Tennessee to take them back to the promise land. He told the players and the university to unite like family and they would get it done together. What transpired on this day may take Tennessee to no man’s land. Kiffin will take his dad Monte, defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron and Norm Chow as well, if a deal can be reached to get him. So the dark clouds hover over Knoxville for now.
The amazing thing was how fast it came about. It was just this past Friday that Pete Carroll announced he would be taking the Seahawks job. Many began wondering what would happen at USC now. How would this affect a program that personifies winning? Then just four days later the news breaks that Kiffin will be leaving Knoxville for sunny California. It was just a few years ago that he was hired by the Raiders and then after being fired took the job at UT. Now he makes his third coaching move in the last three years.
So now things in Knoxville just got spicy. Within minutes of the announcement I received calls from fans and contacts spitting fury over what amounts to betrayal. What now and where do you go to find a coach? What will happen to the kids that were promised this and that by Kiffin? One has to wonder what affect it will have on the kids that have already signed. They were told that Kiffin would be the coach and now he is gone. The fan base of Tennessee has taken a hit in the past month or so with the mistakes made by football and basketball players and now this.
As the news leaked in Knoxville students, fans and some players gathered around the football complex. The crowd got bigger and when some of the players started walking out of Kiffin’s press conference, they joined the crowd. Screams of profanity and betrayal echoed along Johnny Majors Blvd to the point that police had to get the crowd in order. They would also have to put up barricades. One of the players, defensive end Chris Walker, did his best saying that it was Kiffin’s dream job and he wished him the best at USC. Another player yelled out that he was a traitor.
It will be hard for this program especially since they were just starting to buy into the system. They had a coach that was full of fire and would challenge anyone in front of him. All the confidence that was built and the bonding of this program are shot. Recruits for the incoming class, currently ranked sixth in the nation, will now look at other options. Players such as Jaques Smith, the state’s top recruit, are not waiting. Smith told Rivals.com that he will be looking at going to LSU now. Markeith Ambles from Georgia said he would take a wait-and-see approach for now. No matter who says what this is going to take a toll on this class. Interim coach Kippy Brown just got to Knoxville a few weeks ago and now has the task of keeping as many of the kids as he can. It will be a tall order.
These days the attitude is that the kids go to these schools for the university not the coach. Well that’s a bunch of bull and the worst part is the coaches don’t seem to care anymore. Kiffin said in his press conference that it hurt to do this. How much does it hurt these kids on the team? The younger ones that went there knowing they had a dream team for a coaching staff are lost now. Parents that were made promises now have to wonder if their sons will stay at UT and where will they go if they move. The word loyalty means nothing anymore. National Signing Day is just three weeks away and UT had 22 commitments. That number will drop quickly as February 3rd approaches. On top of that it has been reported that Kiffin and his staff were already calling some of these kids and telling them not to go to class. A precursor to the invitation to go to USC I would suppose.
So now UT athletics director Mike Hamilton will begin a quick search for head coach. Because of the timing it will have to be a relatively fast hire. The list is shorter than it would have been before now that other schools have taken some of them for their head-coaching job. The list of available coaches includes Wil Muschamp of Texas. He is the coach in waiting there but may have to wait a long time for Mack Brown to leave. Another is former UT OC David Cutcliffe or maybe they could take a look at Gary Patterson of TCU. They will want to find someone that personifies the qualities of Vols football. It should be someone that appeals to them and the masses as well. Maybe someone like Kirby Smart in Alabama would work for them even if he may be a year away from actually being head coach ready. Whoever it is this must be done so that they can try to keep as many new incoming recruits as they can. The new coach will have to be someone that opens the eyes of these kids and can give them a reason to stay.
In the end it has become a football world of all business now. The concept of loyalty and commitment is only something written on paper now. Coaches such as Kiffin come in make their mark and leave faster than they showed up. Universities like UT then have to pick up the pieces left behind by these guys.
Walker said plenty last night, but one thing he said hit home, and it was to the fans. “Tell them we’re going to be Tennessee today, tomorrow, next year, whenever. We’re still going to be here no matter who the coach is.” These were strong words from a player of a proud program that is looking for a way to scramble out of this hole.