For a guy who was 0–1 against the Gators, who had little college football success as a head coach, who had yet to prove anything other than that he could win moral victories and that he could talk trash like Phillip Rivers, Lane Kiffin made me nervous.
It was his swagger. He brought life back to UT quickly despite their ridiculous firing of a legend, a move that should have warranted at least a year of down time.
Kiffin wouldn't have it though. He united his team and raised their level of play far beyond what they managed under Fat Phil (I don't mean all Vols teams, Tennessee. I mean the ones from 2008–2009). Under him, UT thought they could play with anyone, and for the most part they could.
Kiffin's Vols weren't the most talented team, but they lost to Florida by 10, shutting down Tim Tebow. The spread was just under 2,000 for the game.
Take away an awful interior line on his special teams unit and he beats Alabama too. Again, moral victories aren't anything but a loss, but they are scary for the favored team.
Kiffin could recruit too. In his two recruiting season he netted two top 10 classes. Fulmer was no slouch, but he had only managed three in the last seven years.
Things were definitely looking up for the Vols Nation.
And now this. Kiffin dropped an atom bomb on the state of Tennessee with his announcement that he would be heading for the sandy beaches of sunny SoCal to replace USC legend Pete Carroll.
In a year full of surprises, this one ranks up near the top. Kiffin had the ball rolling at Tennessee. The Vols were headed back to the top of the SEC East, whether Gators fans are willing to accept it or not.
He had a great salary for a young coach, and his expectations were only what he had made them. If anything, he had already exceeded the short–term goals that the boosters had in mind.
I for one, am laughing right now. Later, I will breathe a sigh of relief. Kiffin may have delivered a Spurrier-esque sucker punch to the Vols, but what he really did is seal Florida and Tennessee's fate.
Barring an Urban Meyer melt–down, the SEC East is a two team show. Well, at this exact moment it's a one team show. I'm not so fast to write off Mark Richt though.
However, I will be fast enough to write off Tennessee. The Vols are done for the short–medium term. This recruiting class may stay, or it may leave. I'm thinking it will leave. Some may even follow coach Kif to LA.
Tennessee is not doomed to wallow in mediocrity forever. For all of Lane's swagger he does not have that kind of power. One day they will be back on top. That's how the SEC works. However, for now and for the foreseeable future, they are irrelevant.
Update: Apparently, recruiting guru Ed Orgeron was urging UT early enrollee recruits to skip classes today so they could come to USC with the Kiffin staff. Not only is Kiffin leaving Tennessee in a mess, he's poaching their 2010 recruiting class!
I guess he wasn't content with giving UT the finger. He had to slap them around a little bit and moon them on the way out too.