I don’t know if Lane Kiffin can coach a lick. We’ll find that out in September.
But to tell you the truth, right now it doesn’t matter if Kiffin can coach or not. For the new head coach at Tennessee, all that matters today, March 25, is that people are talking about Volunteer football. It can be good or bad. Again, it doesn’t matter. In that respect, you have to give the 33-year-old Kiffin his due. Every media talking head in the country has weighed in on this guy. A bunch of them have ripped him. Again, it doesn’t matter.
We won’t go over the list of verbal “transgressions” by Kiffin since he took over as UT’s head coach. You know them by heart. That, in and of itself, is instructive.
We learned yesterday that Florida’s players are so incensed at Kiffin, who accused coach Urban Meyer of “cheating” during a speech to a Tennessee booster club, that they have posted his picture in their lockers. Michael Carvell did a great job of getting Kiffin on the phone and asking him about this.
Another coach would have hemmed and hawed and harrumphed and given some generic answer with absolutely no substance and certainly no sense of humor. Kiffin told Carvell that he saw it as “free advertising” for Tennessee. It was funny.
Don’t you see what’s going on here? Don’t the Florida players see what’s going on here?
Kiffin is taking a page right out of Steve Spurrier’s playbook.
People forget how Spurrier was universally hated after he got to Florida in 1990. People hated him mostly because he won 122 games and six SEC titles in 12 seasons as the head Gator. But they also hated him because he was not afraid to stick in the needle into Phillip Fulmer, Ray Goff, Bobby Bowden or any other coach or program that crossed the path of his mighty Gators. He did it because it was fun and because, in a way, it actually loosened up his players.
I can’t tell you how many Florida players told me over the years that they were more confident in games because Spurrier had found a way to deflect the attention away from them and put it on himself.
Perfect example: Florida ended the 1996 regular season with a 24-21 loss at Florida State. As fate would have it, the No 3 Gators got a rematch with No. 1 Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. In the weeks leading up to that game, Spurrier accused Florida State defensive coaches of late hits on QB Danny Wuerffel when they previously met in Tallahassee. He put together a highlight film to make his point and made sure a number of us “media boys” saw it. That story dominated the run-up to the game and Florida players told me later that it took the pressure off them. Florida won 52-20 and captured the national championship.
The point is that the world has changed. Recruits, like the rest of us, are living in information overload. If you’re going to get noticed, you have to find a way to break through the clutter. Spurrier did it his way in the 90s. Kiffin has found a way to do it in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Now, having said all that, is Florida going to kick Tennessee good pretty when they meet in Gainesville on Sept. 19? Probably. But you know what? Florida will be preseason No. 1 and was going to beat Tennessee anyway. So what if they tack on another touchdown or two out of anger? If you’re Tennessee, it really doesn’t matter. Yeah, it will hurt for a little while but the next week the Vols will play Ohio U.
What matters is an interesting little nugget in one of Carvell’s stories. He called a big time recruit who didn’t know the name of the head coach at Clemson and only knew the last name of the new at head at Auburn. But, by golly, he knew the head coach at Tennessee.
If you’re a Tennessee fan all that really matters is whether or not Kiffin and his staff can eventually bring enough good players to Knoxville and coach them up well enough to win an SEC title. It will be at least two years, probably three, before we know that if that has a chance of happening. The early returns look promising. Tennessee has surrounded Kiffin with the highest paid group of assistant coaches in the country. It could work or this whole thing could blow up in Tennessee’s face.
Until then, expect Kiffin to keep stirring the pot. Every time he is on YouTube or Pardon the Interruption the Tennessee brand is exposed to potential recruits. And the media, God bless them, will keep writing and talking about it. And you, dear friends, will keep reading and watching. You can’t help it.