KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Lane Kiffin’s brief tenure at Tennessee seems a subject of revisionist history these days.
Kiffin’s entertaining Twitter persona and sharp sense of humor has won over many in the media, including some willing to overlook his checkered NCAA past in Knoxville. There were, however, enough people paying attention to more than just the couches that burned when Kiffin abruptly left the school after just one season in January 2010.
Kiffin’s image at Tennessee was such that a local attorney applied with the City Council for a sewage center to be named after Kiffin. Like the scent of a skunk, the stench Kiffin left behind will not soon be forgotten.
When Kiffin’s Tennessee program was found to have improperly paid for recruiting hostesses to attend a high school game, it put the Vols’ football compliance on shaky ground.
Tennessee didn’t suffer and major violations in Phillip Fulmer’s 17 years as head coach. But in less than a year, Kiffin put Tennessee on the brink of what could have been interpreted as lack of institutional control.
Indeed, there were three years of NCAA investigations after Kiffin left, which cast a shadow over Tennessee’s national image and recruiting efforts.
Meanwhile, Kiffin was forced out midway through his fourth season at USC after replacing championship coach Pete Carroll, the proud Trojans having regressed significantly under his watch.
Kiffin’s 7-6 record at UT in 2009 came with a team that had six players drafted into the NFL after the season — two of them first-rounders, including No. 5 overall pick Eric Berry.
Say this for Kiffin: He’s charming when he wants to be, and there’s a market for that. He’s witty on Twitter, even if he told SEC Network’s Greg McElroy that he delights in trolling Tennessee supporters.
But ultimately none of that can erase the carnage Kiffin left behind on and off the field at UT.
Tennessee Mailbag Question Of The Day
Is it true Lane Kiffin is a top candidate for the Vols? Probably wouldn’t be a bad decision
Joe Spoone, from Facebook
In a word: no.
But apparently some fans are willing to throw Kiffin’s name out without recalling his background.
There are legitimate provisional candidates out there — Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and Duke’s David Cutcliffe are two current college coaches who should get calls, and yes, there’s the Jon Gruden talk — but Kiffin is not one of them.
Kiffin’s issues are well-documented, from his spat with the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis to ill-informed allegations of opponents’ recruiting violations and the mid-season firing at USC.
Current Tennessee athletic director John Currie knows all about Kiffin. Currie was the right-hand man for former Vols’ AD Mike Hamilton when that administration was directed to garner finances to fund Phillip Fulmer’s removal.
Fulmer led Tennessee to the SEC Championship Game and a 10-4 record less than a year earlier, but the transition to more of a spread offense wasn’t working out in 2008, and fans let their feelings be known.
Fulmer’s five SEC Championship Game appearances in his final 12 years weren’t good enough, and message boards buzzed with the belief that any coach could win at Tennessee. Further, key power brokers felt they had a shot at landing former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher.
Of course, Cowher stayed retired from coaching, and Tennessee ended up with Kiffin.
For perspective on how Kiffin fit into the mix, here’s UTs record the past 15 seasons under Fulmer, Kifffin, Derek Dooley and Butch Jones, and final AP Top 25 rank:
2002: 8-5 (Phillip Fulmer), Peach Bowl vs. Maryland, 30-3 Loss, Not Ranked
2003: 10-3 (Fulmer), Peach Bowl vs. Clemson, 27-14 Loss, No. 15
2004: 10-3 (Fulmer), Cotton Bowl vs. Texas A&M, 38-7 Win, No. 13
2005: 5-6 (Fulmer), No Bowl, Not Ranked
2006: 9-4 (Fulmer) Outback Bowl vs. Penn State, 20-10 Loss, No. 25
2007: 10-4 (Fulmer) Outback Bowl vs. Wisconsin, 21-17 Win, No. 12
2008: 5-7 (Fulmer) No Bowl, Not Ranked
2009: 7-6 (Lane Kiffin), Chick-fil-A Bowl vs. Virginia Tech, 37-14 Loss, Not Ranked
2010: 6-7 (Dooley) Music City Bowl vs. North Carolina, 30-27 Loss, Not Ranked
2011: 5-7 (Dooley) No Bowl, Not Ranked
2012: 5-7 (Dooley) No Bowl, Not Ranked
2013: 5-7 (Butch Jones) No Bowl, Not Ranked
2014: 7-6 (Jones) TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Iowa, 45-28 Win, Not Ranked
2015: 9-4 (Jones) Outback Bowl vs. Northwestern, 45-6 Win, No. 22
2016: 9-4 (Jones) Music City Bowl vs. Nebraska, 38-24 Win, No. 22
So while Kiffin’s season was anything but boring — the highlight was beating South Carolina while wearing black jerseys on Halloween — it was filled with a lot more tricks than treats.
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