Man, Kyle King certainly stuck a stick in the hornets’ nest with this post, didn’t he? In addition to the fast and fierce response he got from Urnge Nation in the comments to it, he also inspired this shot in return at Rocky Top Talk.
With regard to the latter, I’m not really interested in getting into a point-by-point critique (besides, cocknfire’s already done a good job with that at Team Speed Kills), although I am highly amused by this defense of Junior’s record in Oakland:
… Sure, he didn’t have great success in the NFL. But he was not exactly dealt pocket aces either. The Raiders were 2-14 in 2006. In 2007, with Kiffin, they were 4-12. They were 1-4 when he got fired the next year. They ended up at 5-11….winning at roughly the same clip with Kiffin as without him. Did he turn the franchise around? No, he did not. But he did get two more wins in his first year than they got the previous year….the team did improve.
If that’s the performance level they’re looking for in Knoxville these days, I’m down with that.
But I digress. What’s become more and more striking to me as we watch things unfold is that Junior has been quite successful at one thing so far as the head coach of the Tennessee football program. He’s a relentless self-promoter who’s managed to make the Tennessee story all about himself.
Don’t believe me? Look at what Kiffin sells to recruits – he and his coaching staff as a pipeline to the pros. Look at how he turned the emphasis in the athletic facilities from Vol history to players now in the NFL that he and his staff coached at their prior stops. Even the now notorious secondary recruiting snafus are all painted as part and parcel of the Laner’s persona, rather than a reflection of the program as a whole (if you think I’m wrong about that, compare the reaction to UT’s recent violations with that to Auburn’s “Big Cat” whoop-de-do).
As I said, it’s all about Lane Kiffin.
And we’ve all – defenders, mockers, media alike – bought into it. It’s rather stunning when you think about it. It’s not like UT is some fly-by-night directional school now trying to make a name for itself. Quite the opposite, in fact. Historically speaking, it’s arguably the second most-storied program in the conference. Yet the Vol faithful have been quick to embrace the new narrative, even if, as Holly pointed out over and over in the comments to Kyle’s post, nobody has the first clue where things are headed.
And let’s not forget that all this attention is being garnered by a guy whose resume is, to be charitable about it, kind of thin at this point in time. A guy whose notoriety is as much about whom he’s related to and whom he’s married to as what he’s accomplished with a head set on. That’s good marketing in my book. At least it is for the Laner, anyway.
The catch to elevating the personality above the program is that the normal bonds of loyalty between coach and program that we fans take for granted really don’t exist.
Vince Dooley had a famous explanation for his reluctance to throw the football. “Three things can happen when you pass,” he’d say, “and two of ’em are bad.” That’s the way I see the future for Junior and Tennessee – either he flops and gets canned, he succeeds and leaves for greener pastures or he succeeds and stays for the long haul. Knowing what you do about him right now, how would you rank the probabilities?
UPDATE: You really ought to read this David Hale post, if for no other reason than that he manages to tie Cheers to Junior’s recruiting.