In Defense of Lane Kiffin

Am I shocked at Lane Kiffin's sudden departure from Tennessee and his quick anointment as USC's new Howard Jones-John McKay-John Robinson-Pete Carroll?

Am I shocked at Lane Kiffin's sudden departure from Tennessee and his quick anointment as USC's new Howard Jones-John McKay-John Robinson-Pete Carroll?

Yes, yes, yes -- but only because I was somehow persuaded that Carroll was going to spend the remainder of his coaching career at Troy.

I do not understand the apparent shock in Knoxville that Kiffin has departed. Are we supposed to believe no one in Knoxville or the state of Tennessee or the entire universe was aware that Kiffin had a buyout clause in the contract he signed with the Vols?

Now, why do you suppose a coach would have a buyout provision in his contract – in this case, a $1 million penalty if the right to leave were exercised in 2009 and $200,000 less for each year after that? Why, you just answered the $64,000 question – he had the clause in the contract so he could take a better job elsewhere! Wow, how did you figure that one out?

Let's see – was there a better job elsewhere? You know, such as a school that had won two national championships in eight years, seven consecutive conference titles, won 34 games in a row in one stretch, had a tradition that included 11 national championships and, as fate would have it, is located in the most lucrative recruiting area of North America?

By golly, there WAS one those plums out there – at USC -- and, as fate would have it, Kiffin was a bright, young assistant coach there for six seasons before going on to bigger things.

So why are we hearing about jungle dances all over the state of Tennessee, including the state legislature, concerning Kiffin's departure? You have to agree with Kiffin's explanation – he must have been doing a mighty fine job or folks from Davy Crockett country would be dancing in the streets with jubilation that he has left.

I'm not shocked that Kiffin is the new king of swing at USC. I recall one of my first conversations with him in the early days of the Carroll administration.

``Best coaching job in America,'' he said, a mantra he would repeat when folks wanted to know why he chose to leave Tennessee for USC. ``I remember when I was a player at Fresno State, we always knew what the Trojans were doing. We knew if they wanted a player, the odds were pretty good that they'd get him. The best football players want to go to USC. From what I hear, they have felt that way for a long time.''

So, here was a young fellow, maybe 26 at the time, who grasped the tradition and lure USC possesses, and the opportunity it posed for anyone afforded the head-coaching position. The position offers not just an opportunity to have a winning team, but all the baubles that lie beyond.

Meanwhile, let's hope the Los Angeles Times grows up and quits performing like a neighborhood throwaway. It sent a guy who doesn't cover college football to Knoxville to dig up what had already appeared about Kiffin on internet sites, except the internet stories were more complete. One of Times' Page 2 columnists offered his own paper some good advice recently – get over it. For those of us who have been in print journalism our entire lives, the Times' performance on this and other matters over the past couple of years has been an embarrassment to a profession we love.

Kiffin is here, and he will do well. The return of Ed Orgeron to the program guarantees that players who loafed on plays during the 2009 season will not see the field in 2010 unless they alter their attitudes. And the coach's father, Monte Kiffin, will offer wisdom of the ages as defensive coordinator. National champion Alabama got four field goals and no touchdowns against him last fall.

Yes, and the 2010 recruiting class will be as strong as could have been expected in view of Carroll's departure at a harmful time.

For those in Tennesee continuing to make fools of themselves, check with your athletic director, Mike Hamilton, who has not been highly critical of Kiffin. He knew about the buyout clause, and understood that if a much better position were offered to Kiffin, his coach would leave. If your Tennessee media didn't know about this clause, shame on them.

Now, let's end the pettiness and get on with college football, the best sport of ‘em all.


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