When I first heard the news today that Lane Kiffin was bolting Tennessee–after 14 months–to take over at Southern Cal, two thoughts came to mind:
1) Risky move by Mike Garrett and SC.
2) This really, really sucks for Tennessee.
The first of those thoughts is quickly being suppressed, however. Kiffin is rapidly assembling quite the dream staff in Los Angeles; as of the moment, he’s already announced he’ll be bringing Monte Kiffin (his father, and, more importantly, a man with one of the highest defensive IQ’s on the planet) with him to run the defense, as well as Ed Orgeron (Pete Carroll’s former recruiting coordinator, A.K.A., the man responsible for bringing players like Mike Williams, Dwayne Jarrett, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, et al. to Los Angeles) to take the lead in recruiting. Then, I heard the news that Norm Chow is already in talks to take over the Trojan offense next season after spending some time across town (at UCLA) after his failed stint with the Tennessee Titans (for those that don’t know, Chow was the architect of those unreal SC offenses in ’03 & ’04–their last two National Championship seasons). It’s crazy to say, but SC’s coaching staff (excluding the Head Coaching position) has actually been upgraded with Carroll’s departure. If Kiffin can prove he has what it takes to keep it all together, SC will have, if nothing else, an NFL-caliber staff next season.
But all that stuff is just salt in an open (and life threatening) wound for Volunteer fans, who lost the man, with no warning whatsoever, they’d assumed was going to be the leader of their program for the next decade. And this isn’t just a shocker for Tennessee fans, nobody, not even SC fans were expecting Mike Garrett to roll the dice on Kiffin. I was listening to some talk radio in Los Angeles this morning, and several people who were supposedly in-the-know said Kiffin was ‘a long shot at best’ to even be considered for the job. This tells me a couple of things:
1) Reporters in Los Angeles suck, because…
2) There’s no way this all happened in three hours.
The most telling aspect of this latter revelation comes compliments of Norm Chow, the previously mentioned UCLA offensive coordinator (at least at this moment) who is already in negotiations to become SC’s head offensive man for next season. I bet I heard Norm Chow’s name today more than anyone’s; I’d estimate that 60% of the people calling in had one sentiment in common: Regardless of who ends up being the next head coach, we have to get Norm Chow back. Chow has the reputation of an offensive genius around these parts, and rightfully so, the guy’s groomed multiple Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks (Carson Palmer & Matt Leinart), was a key part of the development of Philip Rivers at NC State, and turned Pete Carroll’s antiquated, pro-style offense into the tour de force it was from ’02-’05. My point of all this: How in the hell do they already have Chow lined up to take over the offense, considering the fact that 24 hours ago he (supposedly) had no reason to believe he might be leaving UCLA (SC’s cross-town rival, let’s not forget). Moves like that (and decisions like that, on Chow’s part) don’t happen in a matter of hours.
But back to whether or not Kiffin is a good fit for the Trojans.
Sure, he has SC ties, but he’s also unproven (his career head-coaching record, college & pro, is 12-21), arrogant (he called out Urban Meyer in his first week on the job in Knoxville), and something of an idiot (his calling out of Meyer included an erroneous accusation of a recruiting violation), to top it all off. I think the all-star staff he’s assembled will help a ton, but I wasn’t so sure Kiffin wasn’t in over his head at UT. How’s he expect to stay afloat at Southern Cal?
For one, even though this job is an upgrade in name, it will actually be a downgrade in terms of competition. Kiffin, in his first season as a collegiate head coach, has already played the toughest schedule he’ll ever face. He made it through a season in the SEC East without humiliation, so anything else should be a cakewalk by comparison.
For two, there’s one thing about Lane Kiffiin that nobody, not even his toughest critics, have any questions about: His ability to recruit. As mentioned, Kiffin knows the area, and one can’t help but assume he still has plenty of connections in Southern California. Plus, he’s a young, well-known coach (albeit for all the wrong reasons) with a dynamic (albeit brash) personality. In a city as superficial and publicity-driven as Los Angeles, Kiffin will fit in like a pig in shit.
But back to Tennessee. Where in the hell does UT go from here? National Signing day is in less than a month, and you better believe that the majority of the guys Tennessee’s planning to sign aren’t UT-leans because they have an above-average affection for Honkytonks–they were coming to play for Lane Kiffin. UT’s gone into damage control mode already, naming Kippy Brown–a guy who was only named to the Vols staff four weeks ago–the interim Head Coach. Of course, nobody expects Brown to be the long-term guy, that’s a question that, at least for the moment, has no obvious answers. Unless Jon Gruden or Mike Leach shows a sudden interest in getting back into coaching, this might be a hard one for UT to knock out of the park.
And I know this is borderline blasphemy for a Kentucky fan to say, but I feel bad for the Vols. Even if you’re looking at it from a rival’s perspective, you can’t deny that it doesn’t get much shittier than this: Essentially firing your old, National Championship-winning coach to make room for an up-and-comer, only for said up-and-comer to bolt for a better job (which he’s done nothing to deserve) after only 14 months on the job. That hurts.
My man, Pat Forde, is already on the case. He makes an excellent point (which yours truly touched on above): What the fuck has Lane Kiffin ever done to deserve either one of these elite-level positions he’s now occupied? He was a disaster with the Raiders, so UT, one of the best football programs in the country, rewards him with their head coaching position. His arrogant asshole show at Tennessee opened to mixed reviews at best (he finished the season 7-6), so Southern Cal, arguably the best job in the country, decides that’s good enough to tap him as the successor of Pete Carroll, the modern day Bear Bryant. For a guy whose best resume line is being Monte Kiffin’s son, people sure are expecting a lot.