You'll be hard-pressed to find a time when a coach so inexperienced, so fresh, was chosen to run one of the nation elite football programs.
That happened this offseason when the Tennessee Volunteers chose Lane Kiffin to be their 21st head coach, succeeding Phil Fulmer. Many Tennessee fans were disappointed by the hire; others were confused. One thing I can say, though, is that it was an interesting hire indeed.
But what will it mean for the 2009 season, and how is everything else shaping up? Let's explore.
The 2008 Tennessee Volunteers kicked off the season ranked 18th in the AP poll and started with a Labor Day visit to Pasadena to take on the Bruins of UCLA.
The Vols were expected to defeat UCLA convincingly in Rick Neuhiesel's coaching debut for the Bruins, but it was not to be, as UCLA beat the Volunteers in overtime. Tennessee was never to sniff the rankings again.
This shocking road loss to UCLA (who finished the season an unremarkable 4-8) was to provide a glimpse of what was to come for the Volunteers. The opening loss was followed by a Sept. 20 beating by Florida at home and a loss to Auburn on the plains...and that was just September.
Over the course of October and November, the Volunteers lost games to rivals Georgia and Alabama in convincing fashion, got beaten by South Carolina, and, perhaps most embarrassing of all, suffered a home loss to Wyoming 13-7. By the time the season was over, the Vols were 5-7 and the university, far removed from the glory days of the late 90s, decided it was time to part ways with 17-year head coach Phil Fulmer.
Tennessee began its coaching search before the 2008 season was even done. Names to replace Phil Fulmer at Tennessee were abundant. Brian Kelly from Cincinnati, Greg Schiano of Rutgers, and even Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban were named as possible candidates.
There was optimism among Vols fans, for they surely would be receiving an experienced coach who was a proven winner and would inject the program with life again. Everyone anticipated the announcement that would fill the vacant head coaching position.
Unfortunately, the hire left fans disappointed.
Lane Kiffin was the wide receivers and tight end coach at USC from 2001 until 2005, when he was promoted to offensive coordinator after the departure of Norm Chow. Soon after, he became head coach of the Oakland Raiders, where he amassed an unimpressive and Gene Chizik-like 5-15 record in a little over a single season before being asked to resign.
That's when Tennessee came in and, on Nov. 28, 2008, they reached a tentative agreement with Lane to become head coach at Tennessee.
"I'm gonna turn Florida in right here in front of you."
Lane Kiffin uttered those words at a booster breakfast, then went on to tell the tale of a recruit (Nu'Keese Richardson) who, while on a visit to Tennessee, received repeated phone calls while visiting with Kiffin and Staff.
"Just so you know, when a recruit's on another campus, you can't call a recruit on another campus. I love the fact that Urban had to cheat and still didn't get him (Richardson)"
Later that day, Kiffin was proven wrong in a statement released by the NCAA:
"It is not a violation of NCAA rules for a coach to contact a student athlete while they are on an official visit to another school. I recommend contacting the SEC for conference rules regarding contact, but generally speaking, it is not a violation of NCAA rules. Bylaw 13.1.3 outlines the specific NCAA telephone contact rules."
Kiffin had this to say:
“I've been made aware by the Southeastern Conference that my comments this morning at a breakfast with our donors violated a conference policy. In my enthusiasm for our recruiting class, I made some statements that were meant solely to excite those at the breakfast. I apologize to Commissioner Mike Slive and the SEC, including Florida AD Jeremy Foley and coach Urban Meyer. My comments were not intended to offend anyone at the University of Florida.”
Kiffin may have apologized, but the damage was done, and a target was put on the Volunteers by the Florida Gators.
As of Feb. 16, 2009, Lane Kiffin has committed three recruiting violations as Tennessee head coach. The same man that accused Urban Meyer of cheating has three recruiting violations in about two months.
That's more recruiting violations than some head coaches rack up in a career.
The first twocame when Lane, in his love of excitement, tried to simulate game day experiences for recruits. What baffles me is why he broke this rule twice. Surely he would learn after the first time.
The third violation came on a WNML Radio Program when Coach K referred to Bryce Brown, an uncommitted running back prospect. It is an NCAA violation to comment on uncommitted recruits and their abilities.
Three recruiting violations thus far from the man who thought he had turned Florida in for one.
Posted below is Tennessee's 2009 Schedule:
Date Opponent Time/TV
9/05/09 Western Kentucky TBA
9/12/09 UCLA TBA
9/19/09 At Florida TBA
9/26/09 OHIO UNIVERSITY TBA
10/03/09 AUBURN TBA
10/10/09 GEORGIA TBA
10/24/09 At Alabama TBA
10/31/09 SOUTH CAROLINA TBA
11/07/09 MEMPHIS TBA
11/14/09 At Ole' Miss TBA
11/21/09 VANDERBILT TBA
11/28/09 At Kentucky TBA
12/05/09 SEC Championship TBA
Note the four toughest games: At Florida, at Alabama, Georgia, at Ole Miss. Tennessee may not come within 30 of either of those teams. There simply isn't any offensive firepower to do so.
There is absolutely no way Tennessee will go into the swamp, the home of the National Champion Florida Gators, and pull off a victory. In fact, there's no way Tennessee will get within 30 points. The last thing you want to do when playing Florida, at home or away, is give them something to get fired up about, and Lane Kiffin has already done that.
I'm sorry, Lane, but you are already 0 for 1 on the season, as you have guaranteed yourself a loss at the hands of Florida with your ridiculous comments.
Being a bit generous, I will predict a 5-7 record for the Volunteers, but that may not happen. One thing is very certain here: Tennessee, and Lane Kiffin, is in to be humbled in 2009.