Lock the doors or strike up the band, Lane Kiffin is coming

Marvin Westwestwords

So, Lane Kiffin is coming to town.

So what?

You’ll see. He stirs the juices.

Ever so often, I swear off and promise not to write another word about Lane unless he wins a national championship.

Alas, I am a total failure at following my plan. He says or does something unexpected or innocently pops back into the news. I smile. Flashpoints tumble from the memory bank.

In the recent past, he was short with a TV sideline reporter and had a crazy line about popcorn. Alabama kicked his can. His Ole Miss team was great on offense against Arkansas, as in 52-51. Soon and very soon he’ll be part of the light show at Neyland Stadium.

Michael Wilbon pushed a hot button not long ago on ESPN. The TV know-it-all called Kiffin a “clown and an embarrassment.”

He isn’t. Well, not much. He may have been. He has grown. For me, the Wilbon rip job added plus points to Lane’s reputation.

Alas and alas, Michael did dust off old times I had pledged to forget. Even without my ear aids, I could again hear Al Davis calling Kiffin “a flat-out liar” and a con man. That feud was fun. It was the pot calling the kettle black.

I still wonder why in the world Mike Hamilton hired Lane for the Volunteers. I was not shocked when he twisted NCAA rules.

Relationships? To heck with ’em. He officially ticked off other SEC coaches and the commissioner. He even accused the lovable Urban Meyer of cheating. Florida screamed. Kiffin was smacked on the wrist and told to take it back.

I was again reminded of what I thought in the beginning, that recruiting was a Kiffin strength. Character didn’t seem to matter. I remember thinking Lane was always living on the edge, cocky, confrontational, controversial.

He was brash. He was a breath of fresh air. Never boring. He was too often taking shots at somebody. Yes, from time to time, he shot himself in the foot.

Was it real or a showtime script?

Lane’s abrupt departure for greener pastures has a life of its own. I dropped out. About the time he landed in Los Angeles and the mattress fires went out on the UT campus, I vowed not to waste any more words on the boy coach who worked too hard at being witty. He wanted to be Steve Spurrier Lite but he had a more obnoxious smirk.

Oh my, so many leftovers in the vault, Vol Hostesses and the wrecked courtesy cars and the armed robbery in the Pilot parking lot. How dumb could his players be? Back on the third shelf is the conspiracy with assistant Ed Orgeron to steal a few Tennessee signees as a going-away gesture.

The dream job on the west bank came with haunting NCAA nightmares and too many bad losses. When Southern Cal dismissed Lane, he was appropriately left just standing there, on the airport tarmac. He had fallen from prodigy to punchline.

Once or twice I wondered what happened to Layla and their marriage.

I remain intrigued by the results of the Nick Saban scrub-and-rehab program and impressed by what Kiffin did for Alabama’s offense. I thought the renewed celebrity, tanned and trim, was a nice fit for Boca Raton and Florida Atlantic. His runabout was docked at his back door.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when he walked away from a 10-year contract to move to Mississippi. Key words were back to the big league and more money.

Lane Kiffin, 46, is one interesting contradiction. No question he can coach but he hasn’t won anything big. It is astounding that he functions as a lightning rod without getting seriously burned.

Here I go again. There remains a division among Tennessee fans. Some forgave and forgot and wanted him back as coach under any circumstances. Some thought forever wasn’t long enough to maintain a safe distance.

Kiffin says he has matured. I believe him – sort of. I believe if Lane had stayed or returned, Tennessee would have a much better record and roster and the probability of probation. Oops, that is coming soon and it won’t be Lane’s fault.

What we’ll see Saturday is the Kiffin offense against Tennessee’s still improving defense – if there are enough truly healthy Vols to make a quorum. We’ll see how much better is the Rebels’ Heisman candidate, Matt Corral, than Hendon Hooker.

A bit of cautionary advice for any Kiffin interaction: He is a polished orator. He is really quick with quips. He is a terrific tweeter.

I marveled at how he turned the Wilbon blast from a minus to a plus. The new Kiffin said he’d pray for Michael. Spurrier was never that smooth.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

(photo courtesy of UT sports information)

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