Lane Kiffin hadn’t coached at Tennessee for two years, but was taking the blame for anything and everything wrong with the Volunteers until a shocking event last November.
What event was that? It was Tennessee’s first loss to Kentucky in 26 years, with Kentucky being led to a 10-7 win by a converted wide receiver who hadn’t played quarterback since high school.
It was after that signature loss that some Tennessee fans finally let Lane Kiffin off the hook, or at least let Derek Dooley join him in the blame game.
“Are you sure I didn’t get blamed for the Kentucky game? I’m sure somebody somewhere blamed me for that,” Kiffin told the AJC with a laugh.
“After we left two years ago, and I don’t remember the timeline, there were some floods in Tennessee. So people around here were joking that was my fault — that there were floods there.
“It is what it is. I still have a number of people I stay in contact with there at Tennessee. I know this: I did everything the right way there, as you can see what came out of the NCAA’s investigation. The goal was to make Tennessee better every day. That’s what we strived to do every day we were there … to build confidence in our players and our fan base, and recruit really good players.”
Flashback to 2009: Kiffin quickly reached celebrity status in his one season at Rocky Top, rocking the SEC establishment with his boldness and confidence. After beating out then-Florida coach Urban Meyer for a recruit, Kiffin famously said, “I love the fact that Urban had to cheat and still didn’t get him.”
Ironically, Kiffin and Meyer have gone from archenemies to fast friends now that both are outside of the SEC empire. Meyer told the CBSSports that Kiffin apologized for his past transgressions, and Meyer (now at Ohio State) responded by saying “I acted like a child, too.”
We asked Kiffin about his peace treaty with Urban: “Yeah, I’m glad Urban and I are where we are in our relationship. When you’re young, you make some mistakes. We’ve moved forward from that. Who would’ve guessed we are back at battling each other for recruits even though we’re a long ways away? I have tremendous respect for what Urban Meyer does.”
While Kiffin was clearing up things, we asked him this: What did he think was the biggest misunderstanding about Lane Kiffin by people in the South?
“I always thought there was, and still is, a big difference in articles written about me,” Kiffin said. “I’ve always looked to see: Did the person writing the article actually come and cover us? And spend some time with me? Or was it just a person writing it from the outside? I think you can dramatically tell a difference between articles by someone who came and spent some time covering us or around me and the articles by people who never met me. There was a big difference that you could tell.
“And I’ve said this before, I didn’t like everything I did but everything I did was what I believed was in the best interests of the Tennessee football program. At times, it didn’t help with the national image of myself, obviously. But I felt like it was in the best interests of the promoting Tennessee and the football program.”
Despite being at USC, Kiffin still recruits the state of Georgia. The Trojans have offered four high school juniors so far from the state – Grayson DE Robert Nkemdiche (who lists USC in his Top 5 and will likely take an official visit there), Dooly County DL Montravius Adams, Elbert County RB Tyshon Dye and Milton DE Carl Lawson.
And how about Kiffin’s coaching skills? Some Tennessee fans might be surprised to know that USC is ranked No. 1 in the nation for next year, according to ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach’s Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25.
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– By Michael Carvell, AJC Recruiting Blog
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