January 30, 2009

Lane Kiffin rocks the boat in the SEC

Check out this article on Lane Kiffin and some of the rifts that he has already created among SEC coaches.

On the day he was introduced as Vols coach, Kiffin said one of the things he is most looking forward to in '09 is "singing Rocky Top all night long" after beating Florida.

That kind of preaching-to-the-choir comment fit perfectly into the rhetoric of his first press conference. I doubt it got much of a rise in Gainesville, since the Gators have owned the Vols in recent seasons.

What really irked Florida Coach Urban Meyer was that Kiffin continued to attempt to hire — unsuccessfully, as it turned out — receivers coach Billy Gonzales while the Gators were preparing for the national championship game.

More recently, Kiffin has gotten on the nerves of Alabama Coach Nick Saban to the extent that Saban is asking players who already have committed to the Crimson Tide not to take official visits to UT.

This is in response to Kiffin's hiring of Lance Thompson off Saban's staff. Thompson, considered Alabama's best recruiter, got a big raise to jump to the Vols just two weeks before signing day.

Considering that UT is a combined 1-6 since Meyer and Saban arrived at Florida and Alabama, you have to take your victories wherever you can find them.

And don't forget that Kiffin also has tugged on Steve Spurrier's visor. First Kiffin hired his brother-in-law, David Reaves, off the South Carolina staff. Then Kiffin and Spurrier exchanged comments in the press about recruiting.

While we're at it, Kiffin also threw a $400,000 offer at super recruiter Rodney Garner in an attempt to lure him off Mark Richt's staff at Georgia. Garner chose to stay at Georgia.

For those keeping score, Kiffin has kicked sand at Meyer, Saban, Spurrier and Richt. It's no coincidence that those are the coaches of the four most important opponents on UT's schedule every year. Those are also four programs that the Vols must match in recruiting if they are to regain relevance in the SEC.

WOW, Kiffin has come out charging in the SEC!! When you have the names Saban, Meyer, Richt, and Spurrier all mad at you within a month of taking the job at Tennessee, that is a bold entrance to the league.

Part of me absolutely loves what Kiffin is doing. Tennessee has been a bit of a dying brand for the last 7-8 years, and they needed someone to come in and give them their swagger back. UT doesn't have the in-state talent base, so they have always needed someone who can hit the road to sell that program regionally and nationally. When Tennessee was rolling, they were bringing in kids all over the country. New Jersey, California, Florida, even a kid or two out of Ohio on occasion. If you want to compete in the SEC, you need players. If they can start recruiting at the elite levels again, that would go a long way toward them becoming an elite program again.

Tennessee has apparently made the decision that they are done messing around, and they needed to do something bold and break out the big dollars. Kiffin seems to be more than willing to fire some shots across the bow of these other SEC coaches. And if he is taking the best recruiters off the staffs at Bama and Florida and maybe Georgia, he could start stockpiling talent. It seems like there is all kinds of buzz lately about Vols football, which is more than they've been able to say for a long time. If he can haul in some big time classes with this momentum, maybe things really start rolling at Tennessee.

It is amazing the amount of money that Tennessee is throwing around lately to build up this coaching staff.

Lane Kiffin - $2 million+
Monte Kiffin - $1.5 million
Ed Oregeron - $650,000

Plus, he's throwing around big dollars to raid these other coaching staffs in the SEC for their recruiters and assistants. All told I would imagine that Tennessee is easily going to have the highest paid coaching staff in the country next year. They are going to have some serious recruiting horse power on that staff, and obviously Monte Kiffin and Coach O have pretty strong reputations in the coaching world.

Here's the only thing that would concern me if I was a Vols fan. Kiffin seems to be putting his entire stake in this program on recruiting and selling himself. Everything he is out there selling is "hey man, come play for me and learn what I know about the NFL as a former NFL head coach, come play for my dad who invented the Tampa 2 and learn what it takes to play that defense and get to the league." Kiffin is selling HIMSELF and this idea that he is going to get you to the league.

That type of talk is obviously part of every recruiting pitch out there, but isn't there something to be said for also selling your school and the idea of playing for a championship?? Nick Saban is selling to recruits the following:

"Come to Alabama and let's win the SEC Championship"

Urban Meyer is saying the same thing. Mack Brown is selling the same thing. Pete Carroll....ditto.

With Kiffin, he is selling "The Lane and Monte Kiffin Show." That's fine when you're coaching at freaking Rutgers and trying to build something, but he's the head coach at Tennessee!! You have Neyland Stadium and Peyton Manning and Rocky Top and one of the most passionate fanbases in the country. Kiffin doesn't need to come in and sell himself as the savior to Vols football and that recruiting is the end all be all for his program. If your whole spiel is that the only way you are winning at UT is through recruiting, I'd be a little nervous about that.

There's a name that sort of pops into my head when I read about what is going on down at Tennessee, and I think it could be a cautionary tale for Vols fans: Charles Joseph Weis. Weis came to ND and sold himself and his rings and his Jersey guy stuff. Obviously, myself and most ND fans lapped it up and got excited about the newfound swagger. The problem is that it was a house of cards. When you are selling yourself instead of your program, everything suddenly depends on you. And if you falter at all and people lose a little faith, the whole thing crumbles. So even though Weis put a jolt into our program that has paid off in recruiting, the foundation of our program is still shaky even after four years.

Now, I do think Weis has learned quite a few lessons in humility and is making more of an effort to be a leader and not just a salesman/personality. The goal is to build a football program that can win football games and championships. It's not just recruiting and bravado. You obviously need to have great players to win, but I also like my coaches to be the types of guys who can win with anyone's players. A guy like Urban Meyer won at Bowling Green, he won at Utah, and it was obvious that he was going to win at Florida. Same with Saban. He can win with Bama players, and he can win with Toledo players. I hope Weis has learned that lesson and that our program will have a stronger foundation going forward.

Kiffin was a bold gamble by Tennessee, and I think he has done a good job so far of lifting their spirits. The best thing a new coach can give you as a fan is some hope that better things are ahead. That's exactly what Kiffin has done. But he better also be focusing on building a foundation that goes beyond recruiting and personality.

This whole SEC thing continues to blow me away. The arms race down there is unreal. Teams are willing to spend ANY amount of money for success, and coaches are jumping around for pay increases left and right. Even NFL assistants are showing up at these schools for big dollars. Is money just pouring into that league with the CBS contract and the new SEC deal?? Why aren't any other leagues busting out this kind of cash? The SEC is playing a different sport from the rest of college football. Between Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, and Auburn, you are talking about six of the biggest recruiting and coaching budgets in the country. What other league is even in that stratosphere??


Anonymous said...

Lanie is in over his head already. The Vols will be looking for a new coach in 3-4 years amist the middle of an NCAA investigation.

Michael said...


Anonymous said...

Wrong: Meyer is not saying come to Florida and win an SEC Championship. Both Miles at LSU and Meyer at FLorida are saying come to my school and win a National Championship. Geaux Tigers!

Anonymous said...

Do you think Saban is not telling his players to come to Alabama and win another National Championship? Florida nor LSU are richer in tradition than the UA. Believe me, Saban is not just saying win an SEC title. He is going for #13. Saban wants his statue place in the Walk of Champions along side the other coaches who won national championships at Alabama. You forget..we have won 12, not 3 or 4.

Anonymous said...

LOL #13. Let's stop claiming titles that were awarded before bowl games in 1922. Let's stop claiming titles that were awarded by a one man polling system. Granted Bama has more national titles than UF, but they don't have thirteen!