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The Lane Kiffin Quasi-Era: The Year of Talking Disingenuously

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Lane Kiffin is a flat-out liar. He lied to the team, he lied to the fans, and he lied to the media. He will try to destroy that university like he tried to destroy the Raiders, and will eventually clash with [women's basketball coach Pat] Summitt and [men's basketball coach Bruce] Pearl.

The Oakland Raiders -- June 2009

It's been a long time since anyone accused Al Davis of sanity or clarity of thought. And if he had the ability to clearly see the future, the Raiders' owner wouldn't have gone through as many coaches over the last several years in an effort to revive his once-great franchise. But the universally suspected author of this unsigned statement got one thing right: Tennessee and Lane Kiffin did not part on good terms.

Besides Davis, though, there are really very few people who can legitimately say "I told you so" to the Tennessee fan base. Many of us thought it either would or had a good chance to end unhappily, but almost all of us who said that did so out of the conviction that Boy Wonder would not fare well in the SEC. On that count, no one really knows or will ever know; Kiffin made sure of that.

And despite all the soul-searching going on among Vols' fans today, after Boy Wonder announced he would leave Tennessee for Southern Cal, this is not a problem unique to the Knoxville faithful. It is a problem unique to fans of college football, one of the most coach-centric sports around. Professional sports often focus on players who can become icons by hanging around for ten years; with a constant changing of the on-field guard in college football, the one constant is the head coach. So they become the leader of the program, the face of the team and the main subject of fans' fandom.

Which isn't to completely ignore the fact that Tennessee fans could get somewhat annoying in their defense of Boy Wonder. After all, his accomplishments in Knoxville before the 2009 season were:

  • Calling Urban Meyer a cheater.
  • Being wrong about that.
  • Feuding with or calling out (at various times) Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier and Georgia.
  • Setting a land-speed record for secondary violations. (It might not have been that large a number in the end, but he started out at a rapid pace.)
  • Committing a recruiting violation on national television.

But Lane Kiffin basically started his Tennessee career spinning, and his fans were only to eager to accept and repeat the spin. So the unjustified character attacks, arguments with other coaches who had been on the job since Kiffin was in high school and attention-grabbing recruiting stunts were, Tennessee fans and Boy Wonder assured us, part of the plan. Greatness was now just around the corner. Recruits loved this stuff, and Boy Wonder was a master recruiter who would win SEC games with talent.

Kiffin himself sang a song of woe. He didn't want to do these things, you see. He had to; nothing less than the fate of the football program he loved so much depended on it. We know this because he told us so at SEC Media Days in a remark that would end being surprisingly prescient.

The plan had to be, we had to create national attention immediately. I don't think people give you four- or five-year plans any more, especially in this conference. ... Do I love every single thing I've done for my seven months? No, I haven't loved having to do it. But it needed to be done, in my opinion, for us to get to where we needed to be.

Give the plan a chance, Tennessee fans said. Or don't. They really didn't care. But they seemed to make a reasonable enough point when they said that no one could say with any certainty that Lane Kiffin couldn't coach. It was way too early to tell. 

So we waited to see Boy Wonder's accomplishments during the 2009 season. They included:

  • A 7-6 record, an improvement from 5-7 a year earlier.
  • A 4-4 conference record, compared to 3-5 in 2008.
  • A 37-14 loss to Virginia Tech in the Game Formerly Known as the Peach Bowl.

All of which prompted Kiffin to boldly declare as he left Tennessee under cover of darkness Tuesday: "I know ... that we're leaving here fourteen months later a lot better team than we were fourteen months ago."

Exactly how so, Boy Wonder? Fourteen months ago, Tennessee was an average football team that had gone almost .500 the previous season, just lost its head coach and faced an unsettled situtation at quarterback. Now, Tennessee is an average football team that went slightly better than .500 this past season, has just lost its head coach and faces an unsettled situation at quarterback.

But that statement is an unwitting summation of Boy Wonder's career -- you can't really call it a legacy -- at Tennessee. "All hat, no cattle." All talk, no real results. Just an exercise in self-promotion, carried out in the guise of rebuilding a football team. And an illustration of the startling consistency in Kiffin's tenure from the beginning to the end.

The spin never stopped.