Dirty, unfounded, and unconfirmed rumors provided by some of the best purveyors of college football talk on the series of tubes has Coach Lunch Money (TM The Hater Nation) himself, Lane Kiffin, replacing the Lion in Winter, Phillip Fulmer, at Neyland Stadium next week. Even ESPN’s SEC blogger, who scooped everyone on Fulmer being pushed out the door, is in on it: being able to confirm that Kiffin is trying to form a staff, which would include former Ole Miss HC and USC D-line coach/recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron in some capacity.*
I have no particular attachment to such a search other than amusement, and a tendency to follow those who coach at USC and in Oakland with some interest (the former out of fandom, the latter out of perverse schadenfreude)(, and I have largely been in the camp that that the SEC is the wrong place for someone to start a head coaching career. If true, it’s because Kiffin likes the idea of a spotlight and he can recruit. Whether he can coach is another question. Steve Sarkisian is regarded as the heavy lifter in the USC offense since Norm Chow’s departure, and rightfully so, but it’s hard to judge someone’s coaching capability based on a compromised situation in the East Bay.
Kiffin could be one of several things based on the meager evidence we’ve seen so far:
- An offensive wunderkind with bad judgment in terms of job selection
- A mediocrity only as good as the talent around him, made better by coaching five-star recruits in South L.A.
- The classic college coach, better suited to motivating teenagers instead of pro players with multi-million dollar contracts
- A complete bust who used dad Monte Kiffin’s contacts in the classic nepotism route.
Note that these aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, either. Personally, I think Kiffin failed in Oakland because right now, everyone will fail in Oakland so long as Al Davis walks the earth. He forged a good running game out of the mess (remember that no one projected Justin Fargas to be a breakout guy, and the O-line there still stinks); imagine if he had his choice of wide receivers or quarterback. Kiffin’s failures came from things out of his control: I fully doubt he would have drafted JaMarcus Russell, never mind started him, and he wanted Rob Ryan out as D-coordinator. (Ryan’s defenses are just as responsible for the Raiders’ poor play during the last couple of years.)
Tennessee fans looking for a radical, fundamental change in the team’s offensive philosophy aren’t going to get it if these rumors are true; he likes his pro-style offense. This is not a crime and can be effective in the SEC (please see Alabama, and Georgia in its better moments), but we don’t know how good he is at developing a quarterback — and Nick Stephens will need that development, along with a return to a somewhat coherent offensive game plan. Kiffin won’t exactly put the fear in any rival fan base until he starts winning games, and that’s the way it probably ought to be, regardless of who the school hires — there isn’t anyone out there who screams “scary” to head coaches and coordinators on the market.
(*I eagerly support the return of Da Coach O to college football. Earlier this year, I saw him on the CBS telecast of Chargers-Saints in London, and they went to a shot of him screaming at the New Orleans’ D-linemen, and ti felt so wrong. If anything else, it will mean the inevitable return of Every Day Should Be Lemsday.)