Lane Kiffin Details Dramatic Tennessee Exit After Accepting USC Coaching Job

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistSeptember 18, 2019

Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin looks over his team before an NCAA college football game against UCF on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Jim Rassol)
Jim Rassol/Associated Press

Nearly a decade after departing Tennessee for USC, Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin discussed the aftermath of his decision with ESPN's Chris Low.

When Kiffin left Tennessee after just one season as head coach to take his dream job at USC, it led to a chaotic scene in Knoxville in which current LSU head coach Ed Orgeron, who followed Kiffin from Tennessee to USC, was calling midterm enrollees at Tennessee who had yet to start classes in hopes of getting them to jump to USC as well.

Then-Tennessee defensive end Chris Walker described the situation:

"That's when it got ugly because I was trying to calm the guys down and telling them to let Lane say what he wanted to say. But when Ja'Wuan [James] put [Orgeron] on the speakerphone, that's when I grabbed it, told O not to call our players anymore and hung up. I love O and loved playing for him, but that should not have happened."

Now, Kiffin agrees that it was in bad taste despite the fact that it wasn't technically illegal: 

"It wasn't like we were recruiting kids on Tennessee's roster. They were still recruits because school was starting that week. That happens all over the place. But I get the players and the Tennessee fans being mad over that, and I probably would have been, too, at that point. That one's on us."

On the night Kiffin read a statement announcing his Tennessee departure, he had to barricade himself in his office until police escorted him home at 4 a.m. because fans and students on campus were shouting obscenities at Kiffin and burning mattresses, per Low.

In retrospect, Monte Kiffin believes taking the USC job was the wrong move. Monte is Lane's father, and he served under Lane as Tennessee's defensive coordinator before going with him to USC:

"We should have never left, but you can't see into the future, and there's no way you know we were going to be hit with the sanctions we were hit with at USC. I still give Lane a hard time. I'd just bought a beautiful new home there in Gettysvue on the golf course [in Knoxville, Tennessee], and while we were trying to sell it, golfers would come by and throw cigar butts up on my porch. Maybe we deserved it."

USC was hit with major sanctions shortly after Kiffin's arrival, as it was determined through an investigation that former USC running back Reggie Bush had accepted improper benefits while in college.

As a result, USC lost multiple scholarships, and it was banned from the postseason for two years. The Trojans did have a 10-2 season under Kiffin, but they largely disappointed with a 28-15 record in parts of four seasons before his firing.

During his one season at Tennessee in 2009, the Volunteers went 7-6, which would be their best record until 2014.

Kiffin served under Nick Saban at Alabama for three seasons after getting fired by USC, and he is in the midst of his third season at FAU. He is 17-12 with the Owls, including an 11-3 mark in 2017.

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