Roy Exum: Kiffin’s Hiring Shocks Vols

Saturday, January 11, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

It’s no secret the University of Tennessee’s Big Orange Nation loathes Alabama but when word swept across the South that Bama boss Nick Saban was interviewing the despised Lane Kiffin yesterday to become the Crimson Tide’s new offensive coordinator, more sparks flew than when the Polar Vortex taxed all of the TVA power grid earlier this week.

Nick could care less what Tennessee fans think, particularly after Alabama has now won eight straight games in what was once a storied rivalry, but – let’s face it -- Kiffin is the most reviled figure in UT history after coaching in Knoxville during the 2009 season. Kiffin, just 33 when he was hired to replace Phillip Fulmer, caused so many problems at UT before he bolted for Southern Cal in January of 2010 that one Vol booster actually offered Knox County $1,500 to name a sewage disposal center in his memory.

For Alabama to now make the volatile Kiffin the offensive coordinator – the guy who will call plays against UT this fall – is being taken as the greatest insult since the two SEC powers first played one another in 1901. After all, Kiffin has been widely blamed for leaving Tennessee’s football program in shambles that has resulted most recently in back-to-back 5-7 seasons.

But Saban, whose record at Alabama is 74-15 in seven seasons and includes three national championships, apparently believes Kiffin is an offensive mastermind. Before this year’s Sugar Bowl Saban brought Kiffin to Tuscaloosa for eight days as a consultant and, while the Tide suffered a 45-31 loss in the bowl game to then No. 11 Oklahoma, a friendship was still solidified.

Now Kiffin is officially on the Saban staff soon after he was unceremoniously dumped by Southern Cal on Sept. 28 after a 62-41 loss to Arizona State. Vol fans relished the fact Kiffin was hauled off the team bus and canned at the Los Angeles airport but now can hardly believe the audacity of Alabama to bring the brash Kiffin back into the SEC.

Kiffin, an innovative recruiter, signed a stellar class is his lone year in Knoxville but virtually every player soon departed, leaving UT in a horrible mess that Derek Dooley couldn’t fix in three years and now has Butch Jones building brick-by-brick.

Kiffin was a surprise hire at UT after a tumultuous tenure with the Oakland Raiders. He was 4-12 during his first year in 2007 with Al Davis, and by the next November, with Davis calling him “a flat-out liar,” he was sent packing with a 5-15 record in the NFL. Within a month he was introduced at Tennessee.

Loose with NCAA rules and haughty in his arrogance, he famously turned Florida in for cheating at a February UT booster club gathering – which got him an SEC reprimand and forced an apology. He also told South Carolina player Alshon Jefferies he would “end up pumping gas all his life” in a recruiting frenzy (Jefferies was a second-round draft choice with the Bears.)

After he left for Southern Cal in January of 2010, then UT athletic director Mike Hamilton was asked about Kiffen’s tenure and his one-word description was classic – “Brief.” With NCAA violations heavy in basketball but also including football, Hamilton was relieved of his duties not long after basketball coach Bruce Pearl was fired but Kiffin’s smear was all over the Vols’ heartache.

Kiffin’s first year at Southern Cal was hampered by a string of NCAA violations that Pete Carroll had left in his wake and, in 2011, the Trojans were 10-2 leading to a No. 1 preseason ranking for the 2012 season. Kiffin voted Southern Cal as No. 1 after the first week in the USA Today poll, after publicly denying it at first, and then the year quickly unravelled, the 7-6 result becoming the first time since 1964 a No. 1-ranked team was unranked by the end of the year.

After USC lost two conference games early this season – giving Kiffin a 4-7 record in his last 11 games – he was fired on a tarmac at LAX in late September. He stayed on the “down low” most of this fall, save for one appearance on ESPN GameDay, while assistant coach Ed Ogeron, a former head coach at Ole Miss, salvaged the year for the Trojans.

When Kiffin came to Tuscaloosa as a consultant in December, current Tide coordinator Doug Nussmeier sniffed the air and promptly bolted for Michigan where he was named as Brady Hoke’s top aide on Friday. Nussmeier was paid $680,000 this year. Kiffen is expected to be paid at least that much and, coupled with his severance from Southern Cal, Lame has miraculously landed once again on his feet.

Trust me, that’s what Tennessee fans hate the worst. The Big Orange Nation is absolutely livid.

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