Lane Kiffin wants to win big at University of Tennessee. To do that, he will have to beat Alabama and Florida, two teams with which the University of Tennessee hasn’t had much success lately, recruit well, and win over the UT fan base.
Tennessee is winless against Florida in its last four games dating back to the start of the Urban Meyer era in 2005. The scores have ranged from 59-20 in 2007 to a mere five points in 2005.
Any UT fan knows Alabama and Florida are the two teams circled in red on the calendar every year. For awhile, UT owned Alabama, winning consecutive games from 1995-2002.
With the emergence of tactician Nick Saban, Alabama is again a force to be reckoned with and a thorn in UT’s side, the same way it was when Bear Bryant was coaching and dominated the rivalry.
As for Florida, Vol fans have a new Spurrier of sorts on the opposing sidelines. Though Meyer actually believes in defense and preaches it. Florida’s defense last year limited two opponents to scoring over 20 points and has all 11 of its starters back.
Since the mid 1990s, Florida has taken over Alabama as UT’s primary rival, especially since it is a SEC Eastern Division foe and the first SEC game on UT’s calendar.
Many Tennessee fans would love to play Florida the last SEC game of the regular season and make the stakes higher. However, Florida plays Florida State regularly in its last regular season game and is staunchly against having a major division rival in its next to last game.
Florida has poured it on against UT the last couple of years. UT fans would love nothing better than to smash Urban Meyer and his team in the face with a 2*4.
What else will it take Kiffin to succeed at the University of Tennessee? Well good recruiting would help. Kiffin is off to a fast start with that, salvaging some recruits who wavered once Fulmer got fired and stealing away some recruits from other schools to land a top 15 class.
One of those recruits, Bryce Brown, considered the number one prospect by several recruiting rankings, will help the Vols immensely. The star running back will fill the shoes of departing running back Arian Foster who finished second all-time in yardage at UT. Brown has an aggressive running style, one in which he darts over, around, and through the defense.
Kiffin’s already shown he can get top recruits from Florida, with the signing of Nu’Keese Richardson, which he stole away from the Gators.
Sure, a lot has been made of the statement where he accused Florida of having to cheat to get Richardson, but if UT beats Florida next year, all the public comments that have been made nationwide criticizing the program will roll off Kiffin’s shoulders like magic fairy dust.
Third, if Kiffin is to succeed, he will need the fans to be patient. After the Fulmer era, UT fans are eager to turn over a new leaf. UT’s record slipped over the last seven years against conference opponents from where it was in the mid 1990s.
While he was in Oakland, Kiffin couldn’t win. Then again, any team that’s owned by Al Davis lately doesn’t seem to win. It’s just not the coach.
The big shoe Kiffin has to fill of Philip Fulmer is another matter entirely. To replace a coach with a 152-52 record over 15 years with the Volunteers is hard for anyone to do, let alone a coach with a 5-25 record with the Raiders. Kiffin certainly has come out talking and with much machismo.
I questioned the wisdom of signing Fulmer to a long-term contract where his contract automatically got extended one year for an abysmal 8 wins! That’s essentially keeping a coach around for life and sets a low standard at the University of Tennessee.
If Tennessee can set such a lower standard for its program, what’s to say it won’t be stuck in the middle of the Southeastern Conference pack? Florida is already tops in the SEC and the nation and with the top level talent Urban Meyer brings in every year, it will be critical for Lane Kiffin to build his fan base and to take some recruits from the talent hotbed from Florida.
The fan base will have to be patient. They can not turn on him in just one year and go through another coaching carousel like the University of Tennessee basketball team, which saw its coaches change every four to five years before Bruce Pearl.
Kiffin has the enthusiasm, coaching staff, support of athletic director Mike Hamilton and an eager Volunteer fan base.
Fifty-thousand UT fans watched the Vols’ spring game. If that enthusiasm from fans carries over into the season, it may take the Vols to an undefeated record at home and keep Kiffin around. Professional sports have the do it now or be gone mantra. UT fans would be wise to be vocal in their support and patient at the same time.