A New Big Orange Era Dawns

Joel Barker@joelabarkerSenior Writer ISeptember 3, 2009

It seems like I have written this type of article about once a month since January. I write again considering we are finally at the doorstep of the future of Tennessee football.

It's taken a while to get here.

From the successful '80s/early '90s of Johnny Majors to the dominance of the mid-to-late '90s under Phil Fulmer to the inconsistency of the 2000s when Fulmer refused to change with the times; the level of anticipation has probably not been this high since the 1999 season following the National Title in '98.

In a little over 24 hours from now the Lane Kiffin era will officially begin in Knoxville. The era really began back in December of '08 when Kiffin was hired, but all the hype and drama he brought to the Hill makes the official start of the season this Saturday so much more important.

For months now we've heard things like, "He can sure talk, recruit, and hire great assistants, but can he coach?" And for months my response has been, "He was a tremendous assistant coach at the school that produced one of the greatest dynasties we have seen in recent times."

What would make someone think he can't coach? Sure, he wasn't very successful in the NFL. Sure, he lasted less than two full seasons at Oakland. Sure, he had problems with Al Davis, the team's owner.

Was Nick Saban successful in the NFL? How about Steve Spurrier? Butch Davis? Pete Carroll?

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Name one coach, not named Gruden, Madden, or Shell, in the last 25 years that had success in Oakland.

On top of that name someone who has had a great relationship with Al Davis.

Kiffin's statements made a lot of people angry over the offseason. Maybe he talked a little too much smack, maybe the Vols have a gigantic target on their backs as a result.

On the other hand consider that Kiffin was coming to a program that was incredibly proud and successful in the late '90s/early 2000s, but had begun to wane beginning in '05—a program that hit the proverbial "rock bottom" with last season's 5-7 campaign.

Kiffin took over a program that had become the butt of jokes, had taken a serious hit on the national scene, and had apparently lost its touch in the development of its talent.

So with just a few months to reel in some talent and inject a new attitude in his current players, Kiffin did the only thing he could do without coaching a down—he talked. He talked so much that Tennessee was in the spotlight nearly every day.

He talked so much that while the sports world was focused on March Madness and MLB's opening week, he ended up on ESPN and many national radio shows giving interviews on how Tennessee would once again rise to prominence.

He talked so much that Florida, Alabama, and Georgia fans everywhere completely despise him. Apparently he even gave the reigning national champions some bulletin board material and drove one of their players to call him a "bozo."

He created a stir by giving Steve Spurrier a dose of his own medicine. The coach that once uttered the words, "You cant spell Citrus without UT" finally met his verbal match.

Then Kiffin stole away South Carolina and Alabama's top recruiters. He tried getting Georgia's until the 'Dawgs offered him more money.

This guy created waves.

After years of a coach whose waves fizzled out a long time ago this was definitely different for UT fans.

Everything about Kiffin has been different. Every facet of his practice management to the day-to-day operations of the program has been different. His attitude is different. His methods are different.

Come Saturday at Noon, expect different. Expect a new team. Expect a new philosophy. Expect a new look. Expect the unexpected.

After all isn't that why Mike Hamilton fired Fulmer? Isn't that why he hired a young hotshot to take the program into the future?

Tennessee fans, here we are. We're standing at the doorstep of a new era. Hopefully this one will turn out as successful as those years in the mid-to-late '90s. Hopefully even more successful.

It all starts with the first step, Saturday at 12:21.