Next UT coach: Lane Kiffin?

If things fall just right, Phillip Fulmer's successor as Tennessee's head football coach may manage to keep the Vols' "family atmosphere" intact.

Should Tennessee settle on Lane Kiffin, there's a chance his first hire will be his father, Monte, a former North Carolina State head coach who currently serves as defensive coordinator of the NFL's Tampa Bay Bucs. The elder Kiffin reportedly has expressed a desire to serve alongside his son on a college staff.

Lane Kiffin, 33, is regarded by many observers as THE leading candidate for the Vol vacancy because of his reputation as a quality recruiter and an up-and-coming young coach. The fact he was fired last month after one and one-quarter seasons as head coach of the Oakland Raiders may actually work in his favor. Because Kiffin is out of work at the moment, he could immediately hit the recruiting trail for the Vols if hired in a prompt manner.

Before he got on the wrong side of cantankerous Raiders owner Al Davis, Kiffin was on the fastest track imaginable. After coaching Southern Cal's tight ends in 2001, he spent 2002 and 2003 coaching USC's wideouts. By 2004 he was passing game coordinator and by 2005 he was offensive coordinator.

Under Kiffin's direction, the '05 Trojans ranked No. 1 nationally in total offense (579.8 yards per game) and No. 2 in scoring (49.1 points per game). His wideout proteges included All-Americans Dwayne Jarrett and Mike Williams.

Shortly after coordinating USC's defense again in 2006, Kiffin signed a three-year deal with Oakland worth a reported $2 million per annum with the first two years guaranteed. At 31, he was the youngest head coach in modern NFL history. He was 32 when he coached his first game for the Raiders, who have been hopelessly inept in recent years under the meddlesome ownership of Davis.

Oakland struggled to a 4-12 record in Kiffin's debut season of 2007-08. When the Raiders started 2008-09 with a 1-3 record, he reportedly was fired over the telephone by Davis. In a televised news conference called to announce the firing the owner called Kiffin "a flat-out liar" and declared that he would not pay the remainder of the ousted coach's contract. Kiffin filed a grievance with the NFL on Oct. 29 in order to collect the guaranteed portion of his salary.

Born in Bloomington, Minn., Kiffin wound up attending college at Fresno State, where he played quarterback. He later coached quarterbacks at his alma mater (1997-98) before taking a job as offensive line coach at Colorado State (1999-2000). Once he got to USC, his career hit the fast track ... before it hit the skids in Oakland.

For what it's worth, being fired by Al Davis four games into a season is hardly a career killer. The same thing happened to Mike Shanahan, who has gone on to become a very successful NFL coach.

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