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Lane Kiffin Fired: Would He Have Been Better off Rebuilding Tennessee?
USA TODAY Sports
Former Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin

The grass is always greener on the other side, and sometimes when you take big risks, you fall flat on your face.

Just ask Lane Kiffin.

The fourth-year head coach of the USC Trojans was fired early Sunday morning, hours after a 62-41 loss at Arizona State, the school announced on its website. The Trojans are 4-7 over their last 11 games, and dropped to 0-2 in the Pac-12 with the loss to the Sun Devils.

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Former USC head coach Lane Kiffin

That sound you hear is laughter emanating from Knoxville, Tenn.

Kiffin bailed on the Tennessee program for USC after the 2009 season, one short year after taking the job. In his one season on Rocky Top, Kiffin posted a 7-6 record and lost the Chick-fil-A Bowl to Virginia Tech. Not the best record in the world, but he had some momentum.

The Vols throttled rival Georgia 45-19 in Knoxville, destroyed then-No. 22 South Carolina 31-13 and were a Terrence Cody blocked field goal away from upsetting eventual national champ Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

On top of that, Kiffin's lone recruiting class in 2009 was ranked 10th in the country by Rivals.com, and despite being the SEC's bad boy, he had the resources and a foundation to build Tennessee back to what it was during the glory days of Peyton Manning and Tee Martin.

For Kiffin, he would have been much better off staying in Knoxville and attempting to rebuild the Tennessee program because there were glimmers of hope.

Jason O. Watson-USA TODAY Sports
Former USC and Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin

 

Hindsight is 20/20, but in 2010 in the SEC East, Georgia finished 6-7, Florida was down and a South Carolina team that finished 5-3 in conference represented the division in the SEC Championship Game. The door was open, and Kiffin chose not to bother trying to walk through it.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor
Former USC and Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin

Despite being his dream job, USC was a mess even before Kiffin took over. 

The black cloud of looming NCAA sanctions was hanging over the program, and eventually the hammer fell before Kiffin could coach his first game in Los Angeles. On June 10, 2010, the NCAA announced that the program would be docked 10 scholarships per year for three years and banned from a bowl game for two years. 

The severity of those sanctions were a bit of a shock (and still subject to debate), but something big was coming and everybody knew it. NCAA issues were present in Knoxville too, but nothing remotely close to what USC was facing at the time.

Would it have been better for Lane Kiffin to stay at Tennessee?

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While Kiffin would have been better off with Tennessee, the Vols are much better off without without Kiffin.

Sure, the door was open in the East and Tennessee could have been a contender in 2010, but Kiffin was never a fit on Rocky Top. He abandoned General Neyland's maxims, ignored traditions that make Tennessee great and tried to make Tennessee the "USC of the South."

Tennessee can be great simply by being Tennessee, but Kiffin either didn't know or didn't care. Either way, it wasn't going to work out long term.

The program still finds itself spinning its wheels a bit, but Vol fans can take solace knowing Kiffin's gamble with the Trojans came up snake eyes. That probably was going to be the case no matter where he was employed, but Tennessee still had some positives to build off before Kiffin bailed.

 

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