Lane Kiffin: Hope for Volunteer Nation

Ishtiaque HossainCorrespondent IJanuary 26, 2009

When we are unsure about a person, place, or event, we usually try to relate that uncertainty to something with which we are more familiar.

Those who are scratching their heads wondering what the future holds for Tennessee football under new head coach Lane Kiffin, should draw a comparison to the 2008 presidential race and its winner Barack Obama.

Some may think the idea is far-fetched. For one, Obama is the head of state of the most influential country on earth while the other guy is just a head coach of a football team. How, then, can we even begin to compare these two people? Surely there is no comparison between the two situations, right?

Well, they might have more in common than you think.

What does any program need when it doesn't work? It needs change. It needs something new, something fresh, something with the potential to effectively get things moving in the right direction.

It is the promise that Barack Obama has made to Americans for the last two years, and it is also the promise Lane Kiffin has made to the Tennesseans since his hire.

The idea of change is the overall similarity between the two, but the ways in which they both got to their position, as well as their plans on carrying out their respective responsibilities, are strikingly comparable.

Both men had to convince a certain group of people that they were the right man for the job. Obama had to convince the American people that he has what it takes to put America back on top. Kiffin had to convince athletic director Mike Hamilton and Tennessee boosters (think of them as the UT Electoral College) that he could lead the team back to glory.

When both positions were hiring, neither man was a leading contender for his desired position. If you remember, Barack Obama was not the leading Democrat in the primaries; the buzz was all about Hillary Clinton possibly becoming the first female president.

When Phillip Fulmer announced on a gloomy Monday that he would not be returning as the Volunteers' head coach, new names immediately started popping up. Butch Davis, Jon Gruden, Mike Leach, and Brian Kelly were on the tip of every analyst's tongue. Lane Kiffin wasn't even in the picture.

Yet both men climbed their way up the list, and at the end of the day their successful interviewing and campaigning paid off. Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States and Lane Kiffin was named the 21st head football coach of the Tennessee Volunteers.

Kiffin and Obama share the youth and energy that is needed to successfully change a program. Kiffin is one of the youngest head coaches in the history of college football at the age of 33, and Obama is the fourth youngest president to take office at the age of 47.

Age is a big factor when it comes to rebuilding. A younger president can relate to and understand the needs of younger constituents. Similarly, a young head coach will generally be able to recruit and relate to players closer to his age better than an older coach can.

Both men are much more energetic than their predecessors.

As much as I love Phillip Fulmer, I will be the first to admit that his press conferences were like warm glasses of milk; they helped me fall asleep. Week after week of "I've got to look at the tape," and "We're workin' like heck," just wasn't cutting it. Let's just say Fulmer wasn't an entertainer.

Obama's predecessor also lacked the energy and enthusiasm for his job that Barack brings to the position.

The biggest knock against these men is that they are inexperienced. Obama was only a one-term senator, and Kiffin's resume only consisted of coordinator jobs and an unsuccessful stint as head coach of the Oakland Raiders.

Both men were competing against mavericks in their own respects as well. Obama faced off against John McCain, a veteran senator for over two decades and a Vietnam prisoner of war. Kiffin's competitors were the eccentric Mike Leach and unconventional Brian Kelly, two wildly successful college coaches.

The inexperience and youth of both candidates worked in both men's favors, as they appointed people much older, wiser, and more experienced than themselves to help solve their biggest problems. Both men hired right-hand men well suited to back them up. Obama selected longtime Delaware senator Joe Biden as his running mate, and Kiffin decided on his mentor Ed Orgeron to be the assistant head coach.

For Obama, the economy is the biggest issue facing the country by far, so he put together a stellar economic team to tackle the problem. The team instantly drew praise from some of the staunchest Republicans in Washington. Karl Rove even applauded Obama's team, with his comments being the equivalent of Steve Spurrier singing "Rocky Top."

Kiffin, on the other hand, faces a roster significantly deficient in talent compared to Tennessee's biggest rivals. He helped offset that problem by hiring Ed Orgeron, Monte Kiffin, and Lance Thompson as his recruiting team.

Orgeron and Thompson are both winners of's National Recruiter of the Year Award. Monte Kiffin, despite being in the NFL for so many years, is as ready as ever to recruit, boasting that he is "68 going on 48."

Both men are receiving a ton of hype.

At Obama's inauguration, roughly two million people crowded the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to watch the president-elect take oath. Millions across America roared in unison as they witnessed a new beginning in the
life of this nation.

Likewise, two days ago at the basketball game versus Memphis, Kiffin and the coaching staff were introduced on the court during a media timeout. The crowd started clapping and yelling as soon as the PA announcer mentioned that the new staff was heading to the court. Coaches Garza, Wilson, Thompson, and Gran all drew enormous claps and cheers.

Recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron threw his arms up in excitement as the student section started to jump up and down. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin pumped a gameday-esque fist as the crowd got even louder and crazier.

And when the PA announced, "...and your head football coach of the Tennessee Volunteers, Lane Kiffin," the packed crowd of 21,905 inside Thompson-Boling arena went absolutely ballistic.

The crowd sang "Rocky Top" like they always do, but this time they sang it with greater hope. They roared and sang at the top of their lungs in hope of a better future, in hope of a return to greatness, in hope that they shall never be defeated at home inside Neyland or abroad in enemy territories like Gainesville and Baton Rouge.

Will they be successful? Will they be led to greatness again? Will Tennessee once again be considered the benchmark for work ethic and discipline and the standard for excellence? Will it be the place that every young child, near and far, dreams of going to one day fulfill his dreams?

If you're still wondering whether there are similarities between the two situations, then these questions should give you the answer. But for the actual questions, we can only hope that the answer is yes, yes we can.


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