"The jury is still out on whether or not Kiffin can actually coach. He surrounded himself with some phenomenal talents, primarily his father, legendary defensive coach Monte Kiffin, and former Ole Miss head man Ed Orgeron, and he appears to have rule one in the SEC down pat that to win you need to do three things well: recruit, recruit, and recruit."
Fiutak correctly notes that Phillip Fulmer was canned because of the perception that his program was spinning its wheels, while several SEC rivals were becoming BCS regulars. Fiutak puts it this way:
"All that matters, especially at a powerhouse program like Tennessee, is being in the hunt for the national title year in and year out. Fulmer appeared incapable of doing that while others, like Florida, LSU, and Alabama, were growing stronger and stronger. Is Kiffin the guy who can make Tennessee a regular in the BCS race?"
Whereas Fulmer studiously avoided controversy during his tenure, Kiffin seems to embrace it ... perhaps even court it. Fiutak suggests that might not be the smart thing to do, noting:
"If nothing else he's stirring the hornet's nest both inside and outside of the program. He might have made Vol fans happy by getting under the skin of Urban Meyer and Florida, but he has rubbed some people the wrong way with his bull in the china shop approach after taking over the reins. He has been brutally honest and brutally tough at times, and while that might have been necessary in an attempt to toughen up the program and to establish law and order, it has been a rocky enough start to put the heat on. It's one thing to be brash, but that only works if you win."
Fiutak correctly notes that Tennessee's 5-7 record last season is somewhat deceiving. The Vols could've gone 8-4 if an exceptional defense had gotten even a trace of help from an utterly inept offense. Fiutak expresses it as follows:
"There were some good pieces in last year's disaster and there's a lot to be excited about this year. As bad as the 5-7 season was, and as miserable as the offense was, the defense was outstanding, finishing third in the country, and three games, UCLA, Auburn, and Wyoming, easily, very easily, could've gone the other way. With a few right breaks Tennessee could've and should've been 8-4.
"Of course, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, Kiffin wouldn't be the head coach."
Fiutak is one of the country's better football writers, and his Vol preview is well worth a look. Here's the link to it: