Tennessee's Lane Kiffin Has the SEC's Full Attention, At Least He Better

Kevin ScottCorrespondent IOctober 27, 2009

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 24:  Head coach Nick Saban (L) of the Alabama Crimson Tide shakes hands with head coach Lane Kiffin (R) of the Tennessee Volunteers after the Crimson Tide's 12-10 win at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 24, 2009 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Usually being 3-4 doesn't cause a fan base or a coach to gain confidence.  It certainly doesn't give critics reason to stop being so critical, unless it's Lane Kiffin's critics.

No matter how much "kool aid" you drank before the season started, there was early cause for concern.  There were a series of questionable play-calls against UCLA.  Some debated the Florida game was too conservative and the Auburn loss was frustrating due to it being a home game and Auburn was supposed to be rebuilding as well.

Commentary from many, myself included, voiced concern over what seemed to be a lack of improvement on the field against teams one would think Tennessee was at least as talented as.  It was difficult to understand how this all-star staff had produced so little improvement on the field, offensively speaking.

Seven games into the season, and especially after the Alabama game last week, the answer could be becoming more clear.  

Lane Kiffin is a first year college head coach.  Yes, Kiffin had a successful stint as the offensive coordinator at mighty USC, but he's never had the control and responsibility that comes with being the head man at a huge program like Tennessee.

Personally, Lane Kiffin was the candidate I wanted Tennessee to select from the start, so I and many others obviously felt the young coach could easily get the job done.  However, there are a few things I believe myself and many others either didn't consider, or let slip our minds.

First and foremost, with this being Kiffin's first college head coaching job, there was going to be a learning curve.  Kiffin has taken responsibility for the entire offense, including the play calling, for an offense that was abysmal last season.  Most of the players Kiffin is trying to teach have had to learn multiple systems under multiple position coaches and offensive coordinators.

Over the course of the season, it's become clear that it was going to take some game action for Kiffin to really see what his team could and couldn't do, and adjust his teachings accordingly.  The play calling in the Georgia and Alabama games has been nothing short of excellent considering what he has to work with.

Secondly, Kiffin is dealing not only with a shortage in talent, but a shortage in overall depth.  I don't mean quality depth, I mean bodies period.

A few injuries along the offensive line have really made that position thin, and Quentin Hancock can't seem to stay on the field.  Hancock was looking like at least the number two option at WR and possibly the number one guy depending on Gerald Jones' ability to stay healthy.

Lastly, Kiffin's support of Crompton and refusal to go away from him is obviously paying dividends now.  Many, many people called for Crompton's benching out of frustration at the 5th year senior's play, but have been abruptly silenced by what almost appears to be a steady quarterback.

If Crompton continues the path he's on for the rest of the season, this would be the one thing over the rest that solidifies the outstanding job Kiffin has done.  It may take a little longer to see on Saturdays than some would like, but Kiffin saw it and that's why he's a college football coach and I'm a hack writing articles about him.

The SEC is on notice.  Florida and Alabama both had Tennessee severely out-manned and were playing at home.  Between the two, they could only muster a total of a 12 point margin of victory, compared to 44 in 2008 and 63 in 2007.

Count the UCLA and Auburn losses to growing pains.  No, no one likes to take those losses, but I firmly believe they made Kiffin a better coach.  He's young and still can learn a lot about how to be more effective, and it's a credit to him that he's taken his lumps and adjusted in the correct manner so quickly.

By comparison, last year's offense showed struggles in the first game of the season and never seemed to make any improvement at all.  This year's version isn't scoring like they'd like to, but the efficiency of the run game and improvement of Crompton make that only a matter of time.

To sit back and think about how competitive this team is with the big boys of the conference is nothing short of amazing.  Watching Bama and Nick Saban celebrate beating Tennessee Saturday as though they'd just won the SEC Championship game told the whole story of how far Kiffin has brought this program in such a short time.

Take into account this is his first year, he has one class of the kind of players he wants, he has to undue bad habits and he has to deal with a league office who doesn't want him to win, at least not against Bama and Florida.

It's easy to get caught up in the frustration of losses and poor performance.  In year's past, you almost never saw improvement or adjustment after the frustrating Saturday's spent at the stadium.  

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article questioning Kiffin's methods to his end.  I stated in that article I felt Kiffin could do good things here, but there were reasons to be concerned I felt were legitimate.  

I have been very pro Kiffin for a very long time, and after the past few weeks, I'm right back where I started.  Some folks, myself included, needed Kiffin to slap us in the face and basically say " I know what I'm doing, shut up and cheer."  He did that.

So, rest of the SEC, you better have noticed.  All the funny articles and comments and doubters have all made fun of Kiffin, his comments and other things.  You better realize really quick that Kiffin is hot on your tail, and it's his first year with sub par talent.

What are you going to do when he catches up?  It wouldn't surprise me to see Meyer leave Florida very soon, and knowing Saban he'll deny going somewhere else and sign there soon as well.  You better take notice.

Mike Slive, pretty soon, when Kiffin has his talent, you won't be able to give your officials free pocket rockets in return for officiating favors for Bama and Florida.  You will be forced into retirement, but at least you'll have Jeremy Foley to clip your nose hairs.

Everyone else, the Lane Train is coming.  You can either get on it or get run the hell over.  Either way, I don't think anyone cares, I just know I won't get caught doubting the man again.

Laugh all you want to.  Georgia fans, you've gotten yours.  Florida and Bama fans, you couldn't have driven a nail up your butt with a jackhammer during our games.  The fear written all over your faces at the thought of losing to team after all the smack you talked was priceless.

In the article photo, you can see Kiffin graciously shaking hands with the midget himself, despite Bama cheating their way to victory.  Saban should go ahead and get used to that, he'll be looking up at Kiffin often over the next few years, unless he takes off.

Every other SEC team better be paying attention to Lane Kiffin and Tennessee, you can't argue with the results.  He fed me my humble pie, and trust me, he'll get to feeding you yours soon enough.