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SEC 2009 // What to Make of Lane Kiffin?

Looking back over the archives, I don't believe your humble correspondent has taken a firm side in the debate over whether Lane Kiffin was a good, bad or risky hire. I've cited the Mayor's argument with seeming approval and been a bit more confrontational (though politely so) with kidbourbon's counter.

And, of course, given the way I've gleefully picked up on every gaffe and secondary violation Boy Wonder has made -- and given him the nickname Boy Wonder to begin with -- you could easily draw the conclusion that I automatically think Kiffin was a bad hire.

If you had asked me the question a few weeks ago, I probably would have given you the answer you'd be expecting. But I've been thinking since then, and trying mightily to avoid falling into the mentality that would cause one to put one's spleen on the line.

Orson is right, of course, that anyone looking at the Kiffin puzzle does so with their blinders of fandom affixed firmly to their head. But this is a pan-SEC blog, so it's reasonable to at least attempt to take a rational view of things. And I've come to the same conclusion that a lot of level heads around the blogosphere have come: There's really no way to tell right now.

First, readers should not take any of the shots I take at various figures on this Web site generally and in Sprints in particular too seriously. There is, after all, supposed to be a dash of irreverence here; you would think that would be relatively clear, but sometimes it isn't. I make fun of what's going on in the news, hopefully without singling out any one team too much or letting another off too easily. Kiffin has been the subject of a lot of posts here -- and a lot of needling -- because he's in the news. This, Tennessee fans assure us, is a good thing. But they can't have it both ways. If your coach is making headlines for shooting off his mouth, particularly when he has yet to play a game, he's going to draw some ridicule.

Part of the problem I have with Kiffin is not just that he takes shots -- as a blogger, it's a lot more interesting when the coaches are popping off than when they're from the Belichick School of Growling Opacity. But Kiffin's shots seem to be more mean-spirited and personal than "Free Shoes University," when they're true at all. The Urban Meyer "cheater" comment had none of the slyness that Spurrier uses to needle opponents, but were it true it would have at least been fair. But was there anything fair about ripping the community of Pahokee, essentially calling them deceiptful rednecks? Why say South Carolina recruits would end up "pumping gas"? (And for those who have defended Kiffin by saying he's too young to remember full-service stations: How would a kid who's half Kiffin's age remember those same things well enough to make up the remark on his own?)

I took offense at the Pahokee comments because of the long-standing unspoken agreement that I think holds among most Southerners of all stripes, from those flying Confederate flags to those who want the flags taken down. It's sort of the regional equivalent of "I can say anything about my brother that I want to, but if someone else says it, I will punch them out." Kiffin needs to understand that he isn't from the South, and as such he needs to be sensitive to the culture here. I would say the same thing of coaches like Urban Meyer. Is that fair? Not at all. But the South is my home, and I don't have to be fair about it.

In the end, on the question of Kiffin's effectiveness, I think I side with those who say there's really no way to say whether he will or not until we see the product on the field. The South Carolina fan in me, of course, sees a beautiful crash and burn in his future.

But I think Year2 is really onto something when he tries to draw the line between a "bad" hire and a "risky" one. I also think that the Mayor and kidbourbon are both onto something. Were I able to revise history -- and I'm admittedly doing so without his permission -- I might title the Mayor's post "There are Reasons to Believe Lane Kiffin Will Not Succeed" and draw the arguments more along those lines. Or perhaps "There are More Reasons to Believe Lane Kiffin Will Not Succeed than to Believe He Will."

Because there are plenty of reasons to think he will fail. There are also a few good reasons -- fewer, I would say, but they exist -- to believe that Kiffin might actually manage to take Tennessee back to a spot in the national consciousness. And for more than just "Oh, there you go again."

Kiffin has done at least one thing right: He's excited the fan base to a degree not seen in several years under Phil Fulmer. He will probably get a mulligan on this season, regardless of how bad things get, and he should. Eventually, though, he will have to back up his talk with achievements on the field.

We might never know who is truly correct between the Mayor and kidbourbon. If Boy Wonder is gone in a few years, carrying a mediocre or losing record with him, the Mayor is correct. If Kiffin takes the Vols to the SEC Championship Game, wins a crown or two and contends for a national title over the next five years or so, advantage to kidbourbon.

But what if it's not quite either? What if it's somewhere in the middle? What if Kiffin wins a division title, has a few nine-win seasons and attempts to prove that "You can't spell Capital Uno without UT"?

Sometimes, life provides no clear answers. Sometimes, we're all a little bit right -- and a little bit wrong.

NEXT WEEK: Arkansas


MONDAY: Tennessee Hopes Change Brings Changes; Lane Kiffin Was Risky, Not a Bad, Hire
TUESDAY: Tennessee's Timetable; The Tennessee Coaches Meet
WEDNESDAY: The Tennessee Team; The Great Lane Kiffin Debate
THURSDAY: Rocky Top Tomorrow
TODAY: Final Thoughts