Coward. Liar. Scumbag.
Those are some of the more polite words used in the past 24 hours to describe Lane Kiffin, who stunned the world yesterday with the news that he was resigning his head coaching job at Tennessee to take the same position at Southern California, and that he was taking the men who make him look good—defensive mastermind Monte Kiffin and recruiting guru Ed Orgeron—with him.
The Volunteers were sucker-punched by a con artist at the worst possible time, just weeks before National Signing Day. And that made me think about why recruits thinking about Tennessee might want to instead think about Vanderbilt.
Tennessee fans, who embraced the well-documented, childish antics of Lane Kiffin when he came on board just 14 months ago, are steaming now and rightfully so. They reaped what they sowed to a certain extent, but it never feels good to get dumped.
It was a grim day for Tennessee, a once-proud program that had been relegated to just another rung on the ladder of a 34-year old boy who's 12-21 as a head coach.
Humiliating only begins to describe it.
What's this have to with our program here in Nashville, one might wonder?
Well, in a way, everything.
You think things like integrity and respect mean a little more to recruits now?
It should mean a lot more. Tennessee players who, in a way, banked their futures on Lane Kiffin's system in Knoxville, are now in a terrible state of flux.
Who will lead them now? What will be their role under the new coaching staff?
Kiffin sure doesn't care. His one-minute press conference and hasty team meeting informing the Vols of his decision spoke volumes. It said, quite loudly, "I don't really care about you. I care about Lane Kiffin. Got to go, my plane's leaving. Nice knowing you."
When head coach Bobby Johnson tells a recruit that Vanderbilt's the place to be, the player knows he's going to a place where the staff will actually care. He's getting continuity. He's getting a place where wins are earned through hard work. In the toughest place to compete in SEC football, Vanderbilt's reached respectability without cutting corners.
Tennessee hired a guy with a 5-15 career record as a head coach to take them to almost as many recruiting violations (6) as wins (7), capped off with a 37-14 thumping in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl by Virginia Tech.
The Vols are searching for their third coach in less than 15 months, while Johnson has the distinction of being the second-longest tenured coach in the volatile SEC as he enters his ninth season.
When conversation arose that Johnson might want the job at Clemson, his alma mater, after Tommy Bowden resigned midway through 2008, no one in Nashville seriously thought Johnson would bail for the more glamorous program. He likes the situation he's in, and amazingly, he actually feels a little loyalty to the school that gave him a big opportunity in 2002.
How about that? Johnson actually pays attention to scruples. He likes what he's building here in Nashville.
Has it been perfect? Of course not.
Johnson's gone 29-66, 12-52 in conference play. It was a long climb to bowl eligibility and a winning season in 2008, and last season's 2-10 record testified to numerous issues the team still has on offense and in playcalling in general.
Some might argue Johnson's a bit too loyal to his staff, and as stated, there have been far more losses than victories.
And I'm still proud, as well as other Vanderbilt fans, to support the Commodores under Johnson.
I've had the pleasure of speaking to him many times. He has a hilariously dry sense of humor, but he also has a no-nonsense methodology that has enabled Vanderbilt to begin its escape from the basement of the SEC (last season notwithstanding).
Most importantly, he has the immense respect of his players, who know that he cares deeply about them and their futures. The growing number of Commodores to head to the NFL during his tenure speaks to his ability to nurture talent. And Vanderbilt won over that talent by selling them on a school that places as much emphasis on success on the field as it does on integrity and academic prowess.
Juxtapose that to what Kiffin did, which was to give Tennessee fans and players a giant middle finger last night. Recruits came to play in Knoxville for Kiffin. He sold them on his system, on his NFL connections and on his resume as an offensive mastermind.
And yesterday, he told those players they came in second place to USC.
Comparing Vanderbilt to Tennessee in football is usually like comparing apples to oranges. The Vols have beaten the Commodores 26 of the last 27 seasons. Tennessee hasn't missed bowls in back-to-back years since 1977-1978, whereas Vanderbilt has made one since 1982. They have a long tradition of excellence, whereas we went ape over a Music City Bowl win.
But when it comes to such the aspects of the game like respect and integrity, it's also no contest. But that one goes to Vanderbilt.
Recruits might want to take notice.
There are two proud programs in Tennessee in the SEC, and the one in Nashville has a staff that you can believe.
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