Booth vs. sidelines

Calling plays from a sound-proof booth in the press box is a simpler task than calling them from the high-decibel chaos of the sidelines. New Tennessee head football coach Lane Kiffin concedes as much.

"It is easier upstairs," he said. "People don't like to admit that but it is. The windows are shut. There's no noise at all. You have a much better view of everything. You have no distractions, and everything's sitting in front of you."

Still, Tennessee's plays this fall will be called by Kiffin, and he'll be stationed on the sidelines ... not in the press box.

"I think it is a little bit easier up there," he said. "But, obviously, I can't do that."

Kiffin understands the challenge of calling plays from the sidelines. That was the system he utilized during his one-plus seasons as head coach of the NFL's Oakland Raiders. He also did some play-calling as offensive coordinator at Southern Cal, operating in the press box that time.

As he recalled: "People used to ask me when I was a coordinator, 'Would you rather be down or up?' I'd always say up."

For what it's worth, Kiffin will rely heavily on offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.

"I'll call the plays (but) I'll lean a lot on the staff," Kiffin said. "We have a very good offensive staff, especially Jim Chaney. He called plays for Purdue nine of the 10 years he was there, and they led the Big Ten in passing offense. It's really good to have somebody like that."

Having two coaches collaborate on the play calls - one in the press box, one on the sidelines - worked out pretty well for Southern Cal, which won national titles in 2004 and 2005.

"When I was at SC calling plays I had Steve Sarkisian there with me," Kiffin recalled. "That gave me someone else (to consult). There's times when you're fishing for something or you've got two series in a row and they see something different."

Although Kiffin will call Tennessee's plays this season, he makes clear that Chaney will have considerable input.

"In between each series we'll have conversations about the next series coming up," Kiffin said. "And I'll go to him for ideas throughout the game because he's really good at it."

Kiffin and Chaney will communicate by headphone during games, since Chaney will be watching from the coaches booth in the press box.

"If you've got two people that can do it (call plays) you need to put one of 'em in the press box," Kiffin said. "At Southern Cal I was up and Sark was down. It gives you someone up there (press box) that's in a calm environment that's looking at it in a different way."

Once Kiffin decides on a play, he'll convey it to quarterbacks coach David Reaves, who will signal the call to the Vol huddle. Even though he is not involved in this part of the loop, Chaney will be a key figure in Tennessee's play-calling.

"Definitely, because he's so smart and he's done it," Kiffin said. "It's not an easy thing to do. There's a lot of coaches who know a lot of football but they can't game-day call very well at all. There's an art to it. There's a rhythm to it."

Obviously, getting a play to the quarterback in a hurry is critical. The more time the play-caller spends making a decision, the less time the quarterback has to share the call in the huddle and get the ball snapped before the play-clock expires.

"You can't freeze," Kiffin said. "The faster you are, the better your players will play. Four seconds is a big deal. If you hesitate and get that play to the quarterback four seconds later, that's four less seconds he has at the line of scrimmage.

"I pride myself on being extremely fast with it. I try to memorize most of the call sheet, so I don't have to look at it sometimes. Then I can get it to him as fast as can be. That allows us to get more plays, more points and more time at the line of scrimmage."


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