I won't pretend to feel sorry for Tennessee over this — it's not as though they haven't spent the past decade smirking and sneering in Tuscaloosa's direction every time something bad happened to our program. What goes around comes around.
At the same time, I'm not here to dance on their grave, either (other 'Bama fans can handle that one).
A few scattered thoughts on this one.
— For whatever reason, from the time Lane Kiffin was hired at Tennessee, it seemed that his tenure in Knoxville was destined to end badly, with either a Woody Hayes or Rick Neuheisel type scandal. I have no explanation for this, but something about Kiffin (and his staff) always seemed off: the brash, constant mouthing, the blatant flouting of NCAA rules, the constant touting of his own staff. I caught a Kiffin interview with Dan Patrick before the season started; he bragged about several of his recruits by name and rating (specifically noting that certain guys were 4 or 5-star prospects) and mentioned repeatedly how he'd hired away "the best recruiter on Alabama's staff" (Lance Thompson). Listening to him, I generally got the same impression one would get from an interview with a brash 16-year-old the day after prom having breakfast with his buddies ("I'm not kidding, dude — she wanted to do it with me AND two of her friends"). That continued to manifest itself during the season — specifically, after his team gave a valiant effort in a loss to Alabama, Kiffin eschewed praising his own team's effort or Alabama's resilience, choosing to instead to accuse the referees, the SEC and whoever operates the headsets at Bryant-Denny Stadium of conspiring against him. Well done.
Look, I'm not pretending that Kiffin is any less of a jerk than Saban or Urban Meyer or about 50 other coaches in the country. But those guys at least have the good sense to comport themselves with something resembling classy behavior in public (Saban is famously complimentary of everyone on his schedule and even said something nice about the officials in midseason). I'm only suggesting that such poorly veiled petulance is bound to show itself eventually.
— One thing that has surprised me: the number of Vol fans and bloggers who have expressed shock that Kiffin and his staff were in this thing for anybody besides themselves. Really, guys? You thought this douche nozzle was loyal to anything other than bottom line? You expect the Vol Walk and the Vol Navy and Neyland Stadium to mean as much to this guy as it does to you? Are you sane?
I suppose I used to think this way. The Franchione thing kind of took it away from me. Coaches are in the business to make money and take care of themselves and everything else is just a means to that end. It's the way things are now, not just with high profile coaches, but with everybody.
Here's a line from a column penned by Bill Simmons after Johnny Damon enraged New England by leaving the Red Sox to sign with the Yankees:
For instance, let's say your buddy has spent eight quality years working for a law firm. He loves everyone in his office, loves his job, never imagines going anywhere else ... and then another law firm comes swooping in and offers him a partnership and big bucks. And let's say he asked you for advice. Well, you know what you would do? You would tell him to take the big bucks. You would. I'm telling you ... you would. And when he does so, you would praise him for doing the right thing for his family. That's the way life works. With sports, for whatever reason, we expect athletes to do the right thing ... for us, not for them. When they choose themselves, we act like they mailed us a pile of dog poop. Somehow they're the ones being selfish.
Do I believe, for example, that Nick Saban is "loyal" to Alabama? Kind of. I figure he genuinely cares about his players and his coaching staff; he (and his wife) probably likes Tuscaloosa and the money he's making; he seems to like his bosses, and he's built a strong program here with no signs of slowing anytime soon. I believe it would take something substantial to walk away from all that. But do I believe he's "loyal" to the program in the same way I am? Does he get goosebumps when he hears the first notes of the fight song? Did he choke up during the celebration after the SEC Championship Game (and only because it meant so much to him to be there in person to see something you cherish so much walk proudly out of the wilderness, unscathed)? Does he bristle every time rival fans and columnists try to smear on everything the team accomplished this season? Would he turn down any offer to stay at Alabama, just because he loves it so much? Please.
More importantly, why should I expect him to operate that way? As Simmons put it so aptly, it's not as though we live that way in the rest of the world. If someone called me from Knoxville or Auburn or Athens, Ga., right now, with an offer to come and work for them making twice what I make now ... I'm supposed to turn it down because I want to work in Tuscaloosa and only Tuscaloosa? Don't be ridiculous.
(One hilarious note I didn't realize until I started reading some this: Lane and wife Layla apparently named their first son "Monte Knox Kiffin." Wow. Talk about a lack of foresight.)
— Having said all that, I have no idea what USC wants in Lane Kiffin. Lane isn't Saban or Meyer, someone with a proven track record who needs a new challenge. Here, in essence, is his resume, per Dr. Saturday:
Thirty-four-year-old Lane Kiffin, bearer of a career record of 12-21 as a head coach at two different jobs in three years -- one of which he left in midseason with his boss calling him a "flat-out liar" -- is officially in charge of the dominant college football program of the last decade. Embrace the chaos.
Near as I can tell, here are his qualifications as head coach at USC.
• He can employ a good staff. No arguments here — if he can bring Norm Chow aboard (as he says he can) to team with dad Monte and certifiable lunatic Ed Orgeron, that's three of the better assistants in the country (all of whom have to be at least a little taken aback that they'll be working for this ass clown, but never mind that).
(One note on the staff: someone on ESPN made the observation that Chow hasn't worked at UCLA thus far because he's butted heads with Rick Neuheisel, who's also has a background in offensive football. Assuming that's true, how does he expect to co-exist with Kiffin, who called his own plays at Tennessee, prided himself on the development of QB Jonathan Crompton AND followed Chow at USC? Don't people think about these things?)
• His players seem to like him. Maybe it's a by-product of youth, but Tennessee's '09 squad definitely had a swagger that the '08 version did not, evidenced by the way the team formed a tight huddle and bounced up and down in the middle of Bryant-Denny Stadium last October prior to the fourth quarter (and they damn near won that thing, don't forget). It was a marked difference from the last days of the Phil Fulmer era, when the team seemed pretty disinterested down the stretch.
• When he loses, he'll whine and cry until he gets his way. Whoops, this isn't a good quality.
• He has a hot wife. Who's perfect for Southern Cal, I might add. Good call there.
— If what some of the UT prospects said is true, and Ed Orgeron was recruiting for USC before he even left Knoxville, there should be some sort of recourse. It's one thing to leave a school in the lurch; it's quite another to be working for your new employer while you're still technically employed by your old one. That's not OK.
— Of course, the talk has already turned to the Vols' next head coach. The "Phil Fulmer as athletic director" has already come up, as you probably knew it would. Will Muschamp's name will inevitably come up, as well as David Cutcliffe and a smattering of other names. Feel free to add your own dark horse to the mix (Trooper Taylor, Jim Leavitt, Mike Leach and so forth).
I'm not sure in which direction the wheel will turn. If Muschamp is indeed the target in Knoxville, that's probably the right move — 2009 was the first season I thought he really proved himself as a defensive coordinator (even if the only time his Texas defense faced a true offensive test was the BCSMNC Game, and surrendered two 100-yard rushing performances and 37 points). That battle will likely come down to a) what UT is willing to offer and b) whether Mack Brown is serious about retiring in the foreseeable future. We'll see.
For now, though, I must confess myself somewhat disappointed. I was looking forward to the battles down the road with Kiffin's Vols — they were looming as a legitimate foil in 2010 with a legitimate group of villains leading the way. That's way more fun than thumping a rival that's in turmoil, right?
One final thought on that: certainly, UT's biggest moral victory in a season of them was its near-miss in Tuscaloosa. If you think this is an excuse to replay that monumental event, you're right.
Watch the video again. Watch the postgame handshake between Kiffin and Nick Saban. Watch it closely. It certainly appears Kiffin is saying, "We'll get you next year," doesn't it?
Oh well, guys.