Kiffin watch: I just don’t get it.

Today, I’ve got a non-snarky post about Tennessee and Lane Kiffin – no nicknames, just a few sincere questions.

I keep reading quotes like these -

From Andy Staples:

Without playing a down, Kiffin has made Tennessee the most talked-about program in the country. For a guy who must scour the country to populate a program to compete with the juggernauts at Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU, publicity is crucial.

And from Dennis Dodd:

“He’s playing you guys perfect,” Tennessee hoops coach Bruce Pearl said of Kiffin.

Pearl is the guy who advised Kiffin that it’s good to be hated. That means you’re doing something right in the SEC.

“My goal was to be the least popular coach in the SEC in a year,” Pearl said. “He managed to do it in a week.”

- and I have to confess that I feel like I’m missing something here.  What is it about the Tennessee program that requires its head coach to behave in the way that Kiffin has in order to succeed?  Or is this simply an exercise in after the fact justification?

I mean, is this really what Mike Hamilton had in mind when he made the hire?

… But Kiffin understands he’s essentially in the entertainment business. Like the WWE wrestler who realizes he’ll make a bigger splash as a heel than as a babyface, Kiffin considers his words and their consequences to be occupational hazards.

“Do I love everything that I had to do to get us to this point? No. I don’t,” he said. “But my job is not to love everything that I do. My job is to do the best thing for our university and the best thing for our people.”

If Kiffin’s telling the truth there – and who knows at this point, given the “gas pumping” and Pahokee fiascoes – that comes across as incredibly cynical.  If he wins (games, not recruiting rankings), no doubt Vol fans will be thrilled, but what will they be left with if he doesn’t grab a few titles?

It’s not just this scorched earth approach to achieving notoriety, but also that whole thing about promoting the program as an NFL pipeline that strikes me as questionable.  It all seems calculated to devalue a justifiably proud program’s tradition.

I know, I know, I’m coming at this from the perspective of an outsider who’s a fan of a rival program, so my opinion doesn’t mean much.  But there’s one thing I keep wondering.  If this is such a great approach to resurrecting a national powerhouse, how come the first guy to think of it is a 33-year old whose prior stop as a head coach was a miserable failure?

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25 Comments

Filed under Don't Mess With Lane Kiffin

25 responses to “Kiffin watch: I just don’t get it.

  1. Lowcountry Dawg

    What could possibly be going on besides spin or hindsight rationalization?

    • Well, if we’re to believe the BS regurgitated in Staples’ article…

      After his firing from the Oakland Raiders last October, Kiffin compiled a dossier on each college team with a head coach opening. For each program, he created an individualized plan to bring that team to prominence as quickly as possible. When he studied Tennessee, Kiffin saw a storied history dating back to Gen. Robert Neyland, but he noticed no buzz that would excite a 17-year-old. Kiffin reasoned that he couldn’t teach anyone Gen. Neyland’s maxims if recruits didn’t know the Vols existed.

      … it’s all part of a master plan.

      • Will Q

        This is starting to sound like when Joseph Campbell’s mythological archetypes were applied to the original Star Wars trilogy, and George Lucas was like, “Yeah, yeah, I meant that all along! I was trying to tap into the collective American consciousness’s deep-seated desire for its own mythology. Yeah, that’s the ticket!”

  2. So far the one thing that none of Kiffin’s defenders, Vol-identified or not, have been able to explain is why being “the most talked-about” or “most hated” coach is an intrinsic good. Yeah, he’s gotten people talking about a stagnating program. But if the Vols go 5-7 this year, what good did it do him?

  3. Lowcountry Dawg

    ‘master plan’, maybe, but Kiffin doesn’t exactly remind me of Machiavelli. More like Bill Clinton.

  4. Kiffin might be a genius that we’re all wrong about, but right now it looks like he’s so far in over his head that he can’t see out. He’s not in sunny LA where college football is just one of a million things people are into, he’s in Knoxville, in the SEC, and is pissing off some pretty good programs with some pretty talented teams before he’s even played a down.

    More than anything, the last 5-6 years have shown what UT’s program should look like if the people around them are competent. There’s no more raiding GA, SC, NC, and AL for talent. The flagship universities in those states all have big-time coaches now. Memphis has talent, but it’s 400 miles away from Knoxville; Ole Miss and Alabama are closer than UT.

    Basically UT lived beyond its means for a long time, but for the next bit at least, it would seem those days are over.

  5. RAS

    SEE: Bruce Pearl/UT Men’s Basketball program for explanation of your missing assumption.

  6. SCDawg

    Do I hate it when people ask rhetorical questions during interviews? Yes, I do.

  7. Joe

    It’s a very sad situation for the thousands of honorable and loyal Vol fans.

    It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better in Knoxville.

  8. Left to Right

    Good point, and I don’t understand why UT people suddenly think their program was lacking in publicity. UT won the SEC East just two years ago and played well in the SEC title game against the eventual national champs. The Vols won an MNC in 1998 (and if they think that’s a long time ago they should talk to a Georgia fan). They are in a conference with unmatched media attention and billions of dollars. And they play in one of the largest stadiums in North America-for any sport.

    The UT-think that “recruits didn’t know the Vols existed” is absurd, and nothing more than an after-the-fact rationalization of Kiffin’s oafish behavior.

  9. 81Dog

    I don’t agree with the spin from UT, but I suppose this could be the plan:

    1. UT needs a talent upgrade (not exactly a breathtaking insight)

    2. UT has no natural recruiting base to speak of, and the talent bases in neighboring states have strong home teams and coaches (Alabama, UGA, even North Carolina with Butch Davis), no talent to speak of (Kentucky and Arkansas), or limited talent with lots of people already picking it’s bones (Mississippi)

    3. How do you get out of state talent to pay attention to your program? Look at what appeals to a lot (not all, but a lot) of high school age kids today: flashy, mouthy, in your face sports and music stars. Maybe it’s TO. Maybe it’s 50 Cent. Take your pick, but aggressive and flashy appeals to a lot of kids.

    4. Take a bunch of coaches with loud, flashy personas and let the cocky, aggressive, talented kids you identify know they won’t have to be anyone but themselves at your school. Old school people may hate it, but 55 year old guys who played high school ball in crewcuts and Chuck Taylors arent going to score any TDs for you or make any tackles, are they?

    Who knows? You get enough talent, you’re going to win a lot of games just on that. I’m not sure who the football equivalent of basketball’s Guy Lewis at Houston would be, but no matter how bad a guy coaches on game day, if you give him enough horses, he can win a lot of games.

    Now, that almost worked for Coach O at Ole Miss. Houston Nutt benefitted greatly from the talent that crazy SOB accumlated, but couldnt win with. The Lamer is trying to take that to the next level with a bunch of wild and crazy coaches (and one coach, his dad, who might actually be able to coach).

    Problem with that is two fold: First, can you get enough talent fast enough to forestall the wolves? Mouthy jerks are tolerated if they win fast, but they dont have much of a good will reserve to draw on. Second, even if you get talent, will you have enough bad charecter guys to blow up your program in spite of the talent? The Brown kid from Kansas that they signed (just my opinion) seems like the kind of ticking time bomb that could have the NCAA swarming over them like ants at a picnic, especially with his “advisor” being so upfront about the money.

    I guess Lane Kiffin is the Bizarro Bobby Johnson. All talent, little coaching or discipline. All the other coaches in the country won’t just sit back and let Lane and Co. take their lunch money, but there are certainly going to be some kids who can play who like that schtick.

    • There’s a difference between being flamboyant in order to draw attention to yourself and being obnoxious. And, again, that’s what I don’t get here. I can see how the whole Wild Boyz thing would be attractive to some kids, but why would any recruit care about Junior trashing Pahokee or calling Urban Meyer a cheat?

      • 81Dog

        I absolutely agree with you that the way they’re going about it seems kind of stupid. I was just trying to look at it from the Laner’s standpoint (which frankly, makes my head hurt).

  10. Dog in Fla

    Global War on Lane (GWOL) Crisis of the Day (COD) Piece, projected date 19 September 2009:

    Gainesville, Middle of Nowhere, Florida, a little south of where I-75 and I-10 intersect, a little north of Micanopy:

    With Florida leading Tennessee by the half-time score of 48-2 (Tebow was scoring so much he forgot which endzone Florida was facing and ran through the wrong one for Tennessees’ points), UT issues Emergency Press Release:

    “UT AD Mike Hamilton, expressing a desire to spend more time with family, has resigned.

    The Interim UT AD will be Mickey Rourke, who along with Vince McMahon, were outside consultants for AD Hamilton in the search for Head Coach Lane after the previous one abandoned us for $6,000,000.00.

    The Athletic Department also announces that it has extended the binding contract of Head Coach Lane for an additional eleven years, one year better than Weiss at Notre Dame, to keep Head Coach Lane from leaving for another job because all the other schools want him.

    Interim UT AD Rourke will also announce live at the Tennessee-Florida half-time from a dangling mic on a specially constructed wrestling ring stage on the field, that he has carved out a special deal with CBS and ESPN to make all Tennessee games available on the Pay-for-View network not CBS or ESPN.

    AD Rourke will also additonally announce that for those loyal crazy fans who still choose to enter the Neyland combat zone to see the Vols live, each over the age of eleven will be given a complimentary collector’s item beat up rusty Samsonite metal folding chair to bust over the heads and into the faces of not only the opposing fans but their adjoining and adjacent fans in Neyland. Go Vols!”

    Lane, interviewed by Erin Andrews, as he re-enters the field with his stylist for the start of the second half is asked what the Vols have to do to stop the annilhilation.

    Lane smiles and responds, “Well, Erin, we’ve coached them up as good as we possibly can so it’s not the coaches’ fault.

    By the way, Erin, Layla couldn’t make it down. How about you and I getting together for some sushi after the game?”

    Erin, bats bleach blond eyelashes and says, “Head Coach Lane, I would really like to, but I’ve already told Tim that I would go out with him. Tim’s bringing along Percy who wants to meet me. Percy is a professional with the Vikings now, you know. He has lots of money. Thank you for the offer anyway.”

    Lane, bats bleach blond eyelashes and responds, “No big deal. Plenty of fish in the sea. Do you have any of the sisters in your old sorority who you could introduce me to?”

    Erin, says, “Hell yes, I can.”

    Lane tells Erin he needs a blond and Erin replies that every chick in Florida is a blond

    Lane, always a winner, flashes smile and think to himself , “How could it get any better than this?”

  11. DawgDawg

    We’ve heard all year long how the Dawg’s defense was soft because the coaching staff didn’t want to do tackling drills, and how the attitude on the coaching staff has changed back to 2001-2002 form. The point being, attitude trickles down.

    What message is it going to send to the players if Kiffin openly flaunts that he’s trying to a) piss people off to draw attention to himself/the program b) bend rules and rub people the wrong way by accusing them of breaking rules; i.e. subvert the intent of the rules for personal gain?

    If UT comes out, beats UGA, plays UF close, and has an otherwise fine year, people are going to accept what’s going on. But the message these players are getting from their “leader” cannot be a good one. CMR had to run out a bunch of bad apples before we became successful, and despite the fact that sometimes we’d just like a guy like Justin Houston to suit up despite his infractions, I think we all recognize that program-wide discipline is a good thing for the program in the long run. I just wonder how this all plays out at UT with Kiffy-cake acting like he is.

  12. Thank you Senator for bringing to my mind that lil’ kiffy is the embodiment of our long lost, but much beloved Tommy Flanagan. I wonder if he’s seen Morgan naked? I cannot think of a better characterization.

  13. aristoggle

    Wow! Joseph Campbell archetypes and Machiavelli!

    This blog has gone all intellectual all of a sudden.

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