Twice I promised myself that I wouldn’t do this.
Lane Kiffin has had more than his fair share of westwords, good and bad, but he simply won’t go away. His name kept popping up in John Currie’s preliminary search for a new football coach for Tennessee.
Of all the fan assistance in replacing Butch, Kiffin was by far the No. 1 suggestion. After the Jon Gruden myth finally evaporated, after Big Orange Country rudely rejected Greg Schiano, “Bring back Kiffin” became the next joke of the day.
The clamor could have been only illogical thinking. It could have been scripted.
For those who have been elsewhere, perhaps on the dark side of the moon, Kiffin was Tennessee’s coach in 2009. He got the job despite a brief and ineffective time and explosive parting with the Oakland Raiders. It didn’t seem to matter that owner Al Davis had called him a “flat-out liar” with several adjectives to reinforce that opinion.
Later, there were other questions about priorities and character flaws. Then wife Layla said he was in the hospital as she was delivering a baby boy “but he was on the phone recruiting the entire time.”
Kiffin sometimes misspoke. He accused Florida coach Urban Meyer of cheating but apologized in response to a threatened slander suit. He actually alarmed Alabama. The score was 12-10. He endured a wipeout at Ole Miss. His UT team did not fare well against Virginia Tech in a bowl game.
Kiffin, colorful and controversial, could have burned down the house. The NCAA got a whiff of violations. Vol hostesses got uncomfortable national attention. The coach departed at an inconvenient time, the peak of recruiting season. An emotional fan torched a mattress. What really hurt was one of Lane’s aides, Ed Orgeron, tried to steal Tennessee early enrollees during the mad dash out the door.
Kiffin’s dream job, Southern Cal, did not go well. He was fired at the airport without a ride back to the city.
Alabama offered redemption. Lane’s brilliance as offensive coordinator earned him another head job, at Florida Atlantic. After he resigned in Tuscaloosa, Nick Saban fired him. He had enjoyed all of Kiffin he could stand.
Lane sought the privilege but was not allowed to coach in the national championship game. Difficulty in being two places at once was the official reason. Rivaling the boss for media attention could have been a factor. There were whispers about private misbehavior.
None of the above mattered to some Tennessee fans. They were so beaten down during the Derek Dooley years and Butch’s closing disaster that they mistook Lane Kiffin’s brightness and charm for ability and dependability to direct a multi-million-dollar program.
Kiffin would tweet something witty. Believers would cheer. Critics would rip him and the memories. Kiffin friends said he really was interested in the Tennessee job. Disciples said forgive and forget, bring him back.
He thanked fans for recommending him to Currie. It must have been flattering to think that we still care.
Wanting more of Kiffin validates how bad it has been at Tennessee.
I heard it all … He has matured … He has made amends … Let the bitterness go, let’s win some games.
Younger fans thought it would be oh, so exciting. Older realists recalled the quips: Lane the pain. Loudmouth Lane. Lane violation.
Some pointed out that he had failed at his three big-time jobs. One summed it up succinctly: He was a bad choice the first time and would be a worse choice now.
Kiffin put a great spin on the going-away uproar of Jan. 12, 2010.
“That was a good thing because it meant they really liked me and they really liked what was going on and they knew we were going to win a lot of games. I took it as a positive.”
Lane applauded the choice of his friend Jeremy Pruitt as Tennessee coach. Just the other day he predicted the Vols will be the next Georgia, rising rapidly above mediocrity to championship contention.
See, he really does like us, said some Vol fans. Others doubted Kiffin’s sincerity. He was just setting us up for another letdown.
To hate Kiffin is wrong. To doubt him is reasonable. To praise him is risky. Bringing him back would have been a blunder.
Ten years from now, if he hasn’t been on probation and has won a couple national titles, he might be the best possible choice if there is a coaching vacancy at Tennessee. Maybe a leopard can change his spots.
Lane would have a built-in advantage. He knows where goes Neyland Drive, Peyton Manning Pass and Phillip Fulmer Way.
Marvin West invites reader reactions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org.