Tennessee Vols Football: If This is the Lane Train, I'd Rather Walk

Joel Barker@joelabarkerSenior Writer INovember 18, 2009

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 10: Lane Kiffin the Head Coach of the Tennessee Volunteers is pictured during the SEC game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Neyland Stadium on October 10, 2009 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I’m not going to spend this entire article explaining my past support for Lane Kiffin. I don’t have to tell you how many articles I’ve written in his defense or how many times I’ve felt the need to explain his decisions, words, and actions.

In retrospect, I wish I had never taken that path, but my passion for all things Tennessee Vols and the program’s new direction took over. Even still, I have relayed concerns about Lane Kiffin in multiple articles (here, here, and here ).

As of this very minute, it seems that maybe I should have stuck with that line of opinion rather than going all-in on a coach who now appears to be a novice.

I recently came to this conclusion after almost an entire season’s worth of cheering for and believing in what he is doing at Tennessee.

Even though Kiffin’s early remarks were ridiculous and classless (as I wrote here), it showed us fans that we had a coach who was going to go to the mat for this program. Most of us felt that the passion was back.

During the Memphis game, Kiffin was the last man off the field at halftime. He went to speak with the Conference USA referee to discuss his displeasure over certain calls made toward the end of the half that allowed Memphis to close to within 35 points. Thousands of fans, including myself, gave the man a standing ovation.

You have to understand, coming from my perspective, we haven’t seen a coach with that much passion in a while. Phillip Fulmer was great in his heyday, but over the years, his passion began to erode, and UT fans could easily tell that it wasn’t the same as it used to be.

Even in the early losses this season, the team played with passion, and they left it all on the field. That’s why so many of us were proud when the Vols lost by 10 at Florida after being expected to give up 60 points to the furious Gators.

During the nice ride from the Georgia game through the Memphis game, there was no doubt in my mind that Lane Kiffin was the right hire for this program. For that four-week stretch, the Vols were one of the hottest teams in the conference. Even with the two-point loss at then-No.1 Alabama, the team was playing lights out.

Then came that fateful night, four days after the win over Memphis and three days before Ole Miss. Two freshmen attempted to rob two men at a Pilot gas station in Knoxville.

A third, Janzen Jackson—a potential Freshman All-American—was there as well, though charges may be dropped against him soon as he apparently had no part in the attempted armed robbery.

However, it was revealed that Jackson failed a drug test before the Memphis game, which is why he was suspended for that game.

You know, back when discipline was easy to come by in Knoxville.

Now it appears that Lane Kiffin does not believe in curfews for his players.

Kiffin told reporters on Tuesday, "I don't like to make rules or have things that you can't really enforce," Kiffin said. "What are you going to do when they're broken? I'd be interested to hear anyone around the country that has one, because we have 120 kids on our team. Are we going to go to 120 houses at 11 o'clock at night and knock on their door and find out if they're there?

"I've never heard of that, and I don't really know how you do that."

Actually Lane, it’s quite easy. That’s what Residential Directors and Residential Assistants are for. That’s what leadership is for.

What happened to leadership? What happened to accountability? What happened to rules and expectations?

To hear Coach Kiffin say things like, "I've never heard of that, and I don't really know how you do that" shows me that this is a young coach who is in over his head. What else does he not know how to do?

Apparently, he does know how to lie and cover things up.

We found out just yesterday that Kiffin actually lied twice, before and after the Pilot incident, about not having an incident.

Nyshier Oliver, who is currently a redshirt freshman, was cited for shoplifting the day of the Memphis game. Kiffin dealt with it and managed to keep it under wraps until yesterday.

Lane Kiffin has preached a big game. He’s rallied the base with his flamboyant attitude. He has talked about how Tennessee will have the biggest and best recruits. He’s even had this team playing above their capability (see: Jonathan Crompton).

But Kiffin is no leader. Not even close.

A leader gets his players on the same page before a big game after a huge distraction. A leader deals with a detrimental situation promptly. A leader rallies the troops and takes a no-holds barred attitude toward the enemy in an adverse atmosphere. A leader leads.

The program that I have adored for more than 20 years now has a kid attempting to lead kids.

I apologize for ever stating, “as long as he wins, we don’t care how he acts or who he recruits.” That statement was dead wrong, and it has slapped me in the face repeatedly over the past two weeks.

I hope Kiffin proves me wrong. I hope that I will, once again, have to eat my words.

I am pulling for Kiffin to turn things around at UT, because I love Tennessee football and I don’t want the Vols to go through what Alabama and Florida went through before finding the right coach.

I find it ironic that almost a year ago to the date, I wrote this article about the coach who I wanted to take over the Tennessee program.

Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly is now an even hotter commodity and will soon be the top candidate at Notre Dame once Charlie Weis is cut loose. It will be interesting to compare the two programs in a few years if that hire takes place.

Less than a year into the process, I think I’d rather walk than stay on the Lane Train.


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