Are Lane Kiffin and Tennessee Getting a Free Pass?

Josh RutledgeCorrespondent ISeptember 24, 2009

KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 12: Lane Kiffin, head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers talks in the press conference after a game against the UCLA Bruins on September 12, 2009 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee. UCLA beat Tennessee 19-15. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

Lane Kiffin is the master of spin.

After losing 23-16 to Florida, Kiffin has been applauded by the Tennessee fan base for having a solid game plan that limited the Gators' offense and made a game out of what no one thought would be a fair contest. I wonder, however, what would the reaction have been had Philip Fulmer been on the sidelines last Saturday?

Three games into his first season, Kiffin has the Vols exactly where they were a year ago: 1-2. In fact, the losses have come to the exact same teams, UCLA and Florida, with eerily similar final results.

Last year, Tennessee lost by three points to UCLA. This year, the Vols lost by four. Last year, Tennessee lost 30-6 to Florida. This year, Tennessee lost 23-16, thanks in large part to a red-zone fumble by Tim Tebow, which would have put the final score at 30-6.

Following the 23-13 loss, Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has been exonerated as a defensive genius who “solved” Tim Tebow and the Gator offense. But last year, the Vols held Florida to only 243 yards, compared to 323 yards this year.

It’s a fair question. Is Tennessee better under Lane Kiffin than Phillip Fulmer? Is the defense better under Monte Kiffin than John Chavis?

The Vols fan base certainly thinks so, but so far, the statistics don’t back up Kiffin’s press conference spin

Perhaps it is simply a matter of talent. Did Fulmer leave the program in shambles? By all accounts, Kiffin has recruited well in his first year.

But in 2007, Fulmer brought in the No. 3 recruiting class in the country according to Rivals.com. In 2005, the Vols had the No. 4 class. How is this a program lacking in talent?

Under Fulmer, the Vols consistently brought in top-10 classes. Can Kiffin really do that much better?

Time will tell, but so far at Tennessee, Kiffin hasn’t done anything to top his predecessor. He’s getting the same results from this group of players Fulmer got. Compare that to Steve Sarkisian at Washington who took a group of players that went 0-12 last year and just beat USC.

Kiffin has spent the last five years of his life making excuses for his performance on the field. Eventually it will catch up to him, because Tennessee is not a program that should feel excited by how close they kept a game.

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