Tennessee Takes a Body Blow but Dodges a Bullet

No Big Orange fan, of which am one, felt comfortable when Lane Kiffin was announced as Head Coach of the Tennessee Volunteers in December of 2008. Many, including me, were very happy to see Phil Fulmer go. He had let the program slide into virtual oblivion and few singers of Rocky Top were excited about what the ensuing years would be under his continued tutelage. Fulmer exited with his head held high and exuding tremendous class. His replacement entered completely devoid of same.

Kiffin spent much of the press conference, called to announce his hiring, talking about what a bad guy Al Davis was.  Davis is the owner of the Oakland Raiders who had fired him after a brief tenure. The reasons seemed to be that Kiffin was an arrogant, narcissistic flake. Davis should know, he’s not much different…..but he signs the paychecks.

Tennessee should have talked with Davis before hiring this “narrow Lane”…..they might, as a result, have continued their search beyond Kiffin. Tennessee fans cringed, saying “this guy may know a lot of X’s and O’s, but he seems to be terribly deficient in the class category.” Our worst fears were soon realized.

Over the next weeks and months Kiffin proceeded to offend most coaches in the S.E.C., the hierarchy at the NCAA and skiddish Vol fans alike with his out of control mouth.  He also came under fire for potential recruiting violations.  This issue might still be an open one…..only time will tell.  I must admit that as the 2009 season went on I never lost my concern that orange blood, I mean the beautiful Tennessee Orange, was not coursing through his veins.  I was, however, smitten by the revitalization that he seemed to bring to the Vol football program and despite the good ole “yard dog whippin’” that Virginia Tech put on us in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, I thought that Tennessee might be up-ticking in the football market.  It was not to be…..at least for about 80 hours.

When Pete Carroll left as head coach of U.S.C. for the NFL, Kiffin bolted Knoxville for the vacated position.  Some of his assistants who also departed in lockstep with him, proceeded to back track and try to talk recruits they had rushed so strongly for the previous weeks into changing their minds and follow them to Trojan country.  It may have worked…we will see.

All of this was a severe body blow to Tennessee, the football program, fans and players.  But after 3 days of whirlwind activity by the U.T Athletic Department, tons of cyber ink and wasted work time by Tennessee faithful, and speculation by the college football world, Tennessee announced on Friday that Derek Dooley had been named as Tennessee’s 22nd football Coach.  WHO????  Derek Dooley….son of the extremely successful Georgia Bulldog Coach and A.D..   The initial fears of the Tennessee faithful were and for many may still be that U.T. made a panic move and picked quickly so as to not lose the recruiting battle that will rage over the next 2-3 weeks.   I must admit to have been one of the skeptics.

Well my brother called me this morning and said, “do you remember how we said we felt when Ronald Reagan spoke the day after he was elected…..proud to be an American and excited about the future.”   He urged me to listen the Dooley’s news conference and see if I had a similar feeling with this hiring.  I did and am sold……and I’m not an easy sell.  Only time will tell whether Dooley will return Tennessee to top 5 -10 status in NCAA division one football.  I think he has all the ingredients to be successful….7 years as an assistant with Nick Saban, a fabulous football heritage, great recruiting skills, a brilliant mind, the consummate work ethic and is a fiercely independent thinker.  But the real thing that makes me a convert and makes me feel that I will not be embarrassed by an off the rails coach is that this is a man of conviction and class.

I also watched Kiffin’s introductory news conference at U.S.C……..what a difference between Dooley’s obvious character and Kiffin’s lack of same.  Kiffin still doesn’t get it in terms of his self centered worldview.  As I watched I wondered what he is teaching his children and what kind of reflection it is on his father and his upbringing.  Stupid me….his father went with him to U.S.C..  Commitment and honor be damned….take the best deal you can get, shake the dust from your feet and leave the broken promises and carnage behind.

Tennessee may have taken a severe body blow, but we have dodged a major bullet.  If you have to deal with a cancer, do so early before it grows.  Thanks Lane and good riddance!  Let’s go Dooley!!!!

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