It was the summer of 2009. Lane Kiffin and his entourage were nearly halfway into their legendary tenure as the coaching staff at the University of Tennessee. Before having coached a single game Kiffin managed to earn himself a reputation among SEC fans and coaches as the most despised of all the characters in the conference. He trash talked the BCS champs, asked Steve Spurrier to compare scores on a recruiting rules exam, and then, wrongly, accused Urban Meyer of breaking NCAA rules. A quote from his opening press conference (pictured above) hung on locker room walls in Gainesville through summer practice.
Lane Kiffin had it all. In one short year he insulted players, entire towns and school districts, historic coaches, and made enemies with SEC Commissioner Mike Slive and the NCAA. (For the record, Kiffin adamantly argued that NCAA inquiries were a compliment to the good work he and his staff had done.) He also won seven football games.
Kiffin was the most despised figure to grace the Southeastern Conference in years. In an even more rare feat, he did it without winning all that much. Now that he's gone, we don't expect anyone to offer all the venom that Kiff did, his gifts are rare, but, we rank for you the candidates for the 2010-2011 Lane Kiffin Trophy of Evil. You decide. Vote early and often for your candidate.
1. Urban Meyer
Reasons for Consideration: Last year's victim of Kiffin hate speech has become this year's leading candidate. Meyer's always been somewhat despicable, but his unprovoked recent tirade against a local sportswriter made him a frontrunner for this year's award. Meyer showed a Kiffin-like flare for the dramatic with his self important ESPN produced retirement to unretirement saga last winter. He even managed to accuse Kiffin of not playing to win after the Gators won a close battle with Tennessee.
Weakness: Meyer wins. Two BCS titles. He also seems to be genuinely loyal to his players. Urban won't go flirting with every team that comes along or leave for his "dream job" after one year. Word is he has even turned it down for a chance to stay with his team. Plus, the ever pure Tim Tebow loves him.
2. John Calipari
Reasons for Consideration: Strong enough to make our poll despite being a non-football entry in football crazed SEC country, Calipari presents a special brand of sleaze. Like Kiffin, he has the ability to brainwash an entire fan base into believing he is legit, despite mounds of evidence to the contrary. He antagonizes his enemies with passive aggressive comments (calling long time recruit JP Prince "P.J." after losing to a Prince led Tennessee team in 2008) and back room spin that undermines his opponents (see Josh Selby decommit).
Weakness: The difference between Cal and Kiff? Cal wins games, just not legitimate Final Four games. Also, Cal does a lot of charity work and fan friendly events in Lexington. Kiff would not lower himself to such grunt work. Plus, he's a basketball coach. He doesn't matter enough to most SEC fans to get the number one ranking.
3. Nick Saban.
Reasons for Consideration: In the old days, Saban was considered a despicable character for his gifts with the "non-denial denial", suggesting he was staying with the Miami Dolphins before spurning them to coach in Tuscaloosa, the rival of his former team the LSU Tigers. All of that seems kind of innocent and charming now that coaches have lefts NFL teams in midseason and after Kiff left in one year. The Bammers do have the occasional off-field issues and there are always rumors of NCAA worthy scandal. Saban also compared events on the football field to the tragedies of war and 9-11. Saban's controlling tendencies with the media also make people suspicious.
Weaknesses: He's a winner. He speaks respectfully of opponents. He seems set in Tuscaloosa until he retires.
4. Steve Spurrier.
Reasons for consideration: Spurrier is an old school trash talker from way back. When Kiff came out talking trash, Spurrier was not amused. He confronted Kiffin in the media and, apparently, in private on an elevator at SEC media days. His jabs at Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer are of legend. Just when it looked like the 'Ol Ball Coach had mellowed, he scored major evil points when he dared to vote for Jevan Snead as QB of the SEC First Team over the saintly Tim Tebow, who,by the way, played for Spurrier's alma mater. All of this while coaching a mediocre SC squad that actually lost to Kiffin's Vols. Congratulations coach. You've still got it.
Weaknesses: Spurrier actually seemed embarrassed by the Tebow debacle. Kiffin never let a mistake embarrass him, he would have called media scrutiny a compliment to his football genius.
5. Les Miles.
Reasons for consideration. Yes, we know, he has a BCS title to his credit, but Les has more recently become known for the kind of off the cuff, half processed, in game decision making that would make Lane Kiffin proud. Lane wasn't all that great with clock management late in the game either. Les also flirted with Michigan in the middle of a BCS title runthat takes balls and a significant lack of respect for your players, employer, and fans. He topped that off with an explosive anti-ESPN presser where he defiantly argued that he had been the victim of media lies, despite evidence that he had been and continued to be in contact with Michigan for some time after the press conference.
Weaknesses: Its been a while since Les has given us anything to do besides laugh. He needs an angry accusation or two this season to make himself a serious candidate.
Honorable Mention: Bobby Petrino. If Bobby'd done any SEC school the way he has his previous two employers, he'd have a real shot at the title. Unfortunately, all of his evil appears to have been an attempt to coach in the big leagues of SEC country. For that, we can only salute him, not hate him.
(follow me on Twitter: @kyvolunteer and visit kentuckyvols.com)