For Better or Worse, Tennessee Football Is Married To Lane Kiffin

Kevin ScottCorrespondent IDecember 13, 2009

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 28:  Lane Kiffin the Head Coach of the Tennessee Volunteers is pictured during the SEC game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium on November 28, 2009 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Coaching changes happen all the time in big-time college football.  The hours are long, the expectations are high and eventually, coaches either get burnt out or lose their job based on performance.

Not every coach who goes to a big time program, however, becomes "part" of that program right away.  Almost every program in the BCS conferences has a coach, or a few, who are synonymous with that program.

The reason for the association can be for good reasons, such as Bear Bryant at Alabama, Pete Carroll at USC, and Robert Neyland at Tennessee.  

It could also be for bad reasons, and the coach attached a negative stigma to his stint that several generations will remember.  Gerry Faust at Notre Dame, Jackie Sherrill anywhere, and a not so obvious name, Jim Tressel at Ohio State.

It's very unusual for a coach to cement himself in the history books of a program in year one, but Tennessee's Lane Kiffin has done just that.  Whether it's going to be of the good or bad variety, is up for heated debate.

Lane Kiffin's stint at Tennessee has been incredibly eventful so far, and whether that's a positive thing is going to differ depending on whom you talk to.

What most people cannot argue about is the on-the-field improvement seen in this Tennessee team, compared to last season.  Besides the 5-7 to 7-5 improvement that's an obvious point, it's even more apparent by the manner in which the Vols have competed this season.

In just under a month, Florida and Alabama will play in high-profile BCS bowls.  Florida has one loss, and that's to Alabama, who is playing for the BCS National Championship.

Alabama is a five-point favorite and Florida is a 10-point favorite.  Now, I know games aren't played in the betting line, but let that settle.

Both those teams are playing undefeated, top 5 teams on a neutral field.  Alabama beat Tennessee by 1 and Florida beat Tennessee by 10 in games where the Vols had to play as visitors.

Yes, some will scoff at the relevance or lack thereof, but the bottom line is Tennessee competed with those two teams as good or better than Vegas, who is uncannily accurate, expects top 5 teams to.

Of course, there's the curious case of Jonathan Crompton.  How Lane Kiffin turned Crompton around the way he did is nothing short of amazing, and deserves a compliment from the worst of Kiffin's critics.

Armed with measurable improvement in year one, and the knowledge that Kiffin did so without the most talented roster and his own "type" of player, Vol fans have a solid reason to believe in Kiffin's ability to take them back to the top and cementing his place in Tennessee history.

Of course, there are two sides to every story.

When Kiffin was hired at Tennessee, he started punching, and punching, and punching and punching.  He took shots at Florida, Bama, and anyone else he felt would help him create a buzz.

Kiffin stepped on some toes, including his own.  At one point, Kiffin admitted some of it was planned and some of it wasn't.  He was almost a daily story on ESPN, Bleacher Report, and any other news media outlet you would read that covers college football.

Recently, questions have been raised about Tennessee's recruiting practices.  In the summer, the NCAA looked into possible extra benefits received by Bryce Brown but later exonerated him of wrongdoing.  Even though the benefits being looked into had nothing to do with Kiffin, he became part of the story.

In the past few days, multiple issues have arisen.  "Hostessgate" and improper contact being at the center of the frenzy, the NCAA has been reported to be looking into Tennessee's recruiting practices.

Whether Tennessee has knowingly broken any rules has yet to be determined, and may not for some time, but what's clear is that Lane Kiffin is a story that the media wants to talk about.  

In America, we love a good horror story about someone we perceive as a "bad" person. No one feels sorry for bad things happening to someone they feel deserves it or has it coming.  

Naturally, Kiffin has made enough enemies that any negative story with his name in it is front-page news, no matter how weak the evidence or minor the infraction would be.

After an eventful year, Tennessee sits in a position few other schools have found themselves, they are married to coach they really don't know.

Kiffin has no ties to Tennessee prior to coming, not even ties to the South.  Basically, people are getting to know Lane Kiffin starting with his hiring at Tennessee, and first impressions are everything.

No matter what happens, the name Lane Kiffin will be glued to Tennessee football for a long time to come, by fans everywhere.  This is no longer a situation where if UT had made a bad hire and he lost, he would fired and forgotten about as a "bad time."

No, this situation has grown into such that if Lane Kiffin continues his trend of improvement at the same pace, the Vols will be sporting multiple national championships by the time he leaves.

On the other side of that, if these allegations are true or the investigations into them yield new information and Tennessee is stricken with sanctions, Lane Kiffin will forever be tied to bringing Tennessee down.

Phillip Fulmer was the face of the Vol program for many years, a position he earned through fielding a winning product and an eventual national champion.  As good of a reputation as Fulmer had as a person, even he faced his share of accusations.

Once Fulmer was let go at Tennessee, it left a vacancy as the face of the program. You don't get that status simply by being hired, it's something that happens with time, winning or an event.

This is no longer a faceless program.  Lane Kiffin is directly associate with the "power T" and it associated with him.  Time will tell if that's a good thing or a bad thing, in my opinion it's too early to determine.

What I do know is the SEC won't forget Lane Kiffin like it has some other coaches to come through.  He has said from Day One that his goal was to put Tennessee back in the headlines and keep it there.

Kiffin has done that and done it well.  Let's all hope it ends up being for the right things. I believe Alabama being in trouble was bad for college football, and especially the SEC, and I believe Tennessee being in trouble would be the same.

Whether you like it or not, Kiffin is here to stay, unless some new information comes out and it's far worse than anyone thinks.  

In that case, the same would hold true, Lane Kiffin has cemented himself in Tennessee history, one way or the other.


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