Criticizing Lane Kiffin? You People Just Don't Get It
Okay, so I have had about enough! The commentary around Lane Kiffin's move from Tennessee to Southern Cal has gone completely over the deep end.
The hyperbole is everywhere. He has no loyalty, character, ethics, honor, etc. They are stealing Volunteer recruits. He doesn't deserve the job. Enough!
You people, and by "you people" I mean American sports fans and sports media, just don't get it.
Let me start off by saying that I am critical of the hire as well. I don't think he's proven anything, and I was willing to risk this year's recruiting class to get the right coach for the long term. Mike Garrett, whose job is on the line, couldn't do that at "you must win now" USC.
So what if 'SC-committed quarterback recruit Jesse Scroggins gave the school until tomorrow to find a coach? Let him go somewhere else as long as it means taking the time to find the right coach. But that's not what Garrett and USC did.
They brought home what they knew, Lane Kiffin and his gaggle of highly talented coaches. Even though they didn't land Norm Chow, this will still be a preeminent (and expensive) coaching staff. They will recruit well, coach their asses off, and compete immediately, all in spite of their head coach.
With that out of the way, I'm tired of the shock and horror about Kiffin and his move. The reality is had the Seattle Seahawks had come to Pete Carroll after his first 14 months at 'SC with the offer and control they just gave him, he would have left then too. USC fans, if they were paying attention and were honest with themselves, knew it would happen one day or another. Frankly, we were lucky we had Petey as long as we did.
Blame Kiffin if you will, and he certainly has earned it, but the real blame here is with college football on the grand scale—boosters, coaches, recruits, and yes, fans. Especially fans. Especially at the major schools, we expect to win and win now as if it is our birthright and is owed to us. Our sense of perspective is completely lost here.
The problem lay in that we romanticize sports, especially college sports. Major college sports are big business and are just a broken version of pro sports.
You want an example? Just look at the BCS bowl system, where groups of investors who have nothing to do with any college or university or academics of any kind dictate who plays in what bowl and prevent a championship while fleecing the schools and conferences in the process.
Let's look at what Kiffin did. He broke a contract. For that, he (read: USC) will have to pay UT $800,000. Sorry Vol fans, he left for a better job and more money. I'm sure you and I would never do that—leave one job for a better one for higher pay.
Might he do the same to USC in one or two years by running back to the pros? Sure. So what? This is a reality of major college coaching, and it's the risk that athletic directors take. Tennessee hiring Kiffin in the first place was a risk, as he was totally unproven.
So Mike Riley took less money to stay at an Oregon State school rather than come to the bright lights of Los Angeles. By his own admission, he learned his grass is always greener lesson with the Chargers a few years back and was lucky to get the chance to go back to OSU for a second shot.
But we chastise Kiffin for being competitive and greedy? Isn't that what we demand out of our head coaches? That they go for the throat, that they are driven, that they demand and want the best?
Even in the glory days, Joe Pa and Bear Bryant and John McKay were the exception. If they didn't win, they wouldn't have been around as long as they did. Neither will Kiffin. He must go 10-2 next year, minimum, to avoid hearing the rumblings—especially with the talent he's walking into.
Look at Rich Rodriguez at Michigan. He's two years into a major rebuild of that program, but there are already calls for his job—which, Michigan fan, is ridiculous. Kiffin does not have the luxury of time.
Do I want college coaches bolting after one year all the time? No. Nor do I think this will become a trend.
Volunteer fans have every right to be upset, but how upset is reasonable? UT Athletic Director Mike Hamilton said he was "disappointed" at Kiffin's abrupt and early departure. He should be. But it was his risk to take by bringing this guy on.
When you are the hiring guy, you get judged by the actions of the people you hired, even when they abruptly leave. Does that mean they should be burning mattresses and making threats against his life? Probably not.
I've heard the actions of UT fans defended as just "the passion of the SEC." Seriously? When passion in your college football program inspires borderline criminal behavior, it may be time to check yourself.
College football is a business, a very big business. It is entertainment on a grand scale. But let's finally face it—college football is a very dirty big business.
The notion of the "student-athlete" tends to engender a smirk, if not genuine incredulousness. The money these athletes make for these schools "in exchange" for their education is remarkable.
The salaries thrown at these coaches, especially from public schools like UCLA and Tennessee, at a time when courses are being cut and fees raised due to lack of state funding is obscene and cannot be rationalized. Norm Chow just got an extension and a raise from UCLA at a time when tuition just was raised again at the University of California system.
The aforementioned Bowl Championship Series doesn't work, makes millionaires out of people who have nothing to do with colleges or athletes, and doesn't really crown a champion like every other league in all of college sports. I don't care what you say, but Boise State vs. Alabama would have been competitive.
You want to see the really seedy underbelly of college football? Take a peek into recruiting. It's nasty and not the least honorable. Coaches will say almost anything in the living rooms of potential recruits. Just imagine what the oh so honorable Rick Neuheisel is saying about Lane Kiffin to potential recruits, and vice versa. That'll be a fun one to watch.
What about all those UT "minor" NCAA violations? Go online and check your favorite school's record on minor violations. You'll be surprised. Do you know who led the SEC in violations last year? No, not UT—Vanderbilt. The perennial football juggernaut that is Vandy.
Do I love college football? Absolutely—more than pro football, in fact. Yet I see it for what it is. It is a broken system with out of date behavioral rules that reward winning at all costs just as long as you don't get caught.
We love the traditions, the story lines, and the grand pageantry of college football. We love when our team beats the rival school. I do too. But by buying tickets and jerseys and being patrons of the schools and all of that (up to the point of burning mattresses), we are simply providing the fuel that drives the dirty machine that is major college football.
College football is one big dirty business. Blame Lane Kiffin if you want, and he certainly deserves some. But so do you and I.
If you don't think so, you just don't get it.
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