I, like Hooper, am looking forward to the Derek Dooley Era here at Tennessee and to getting this whole Kiffin thing behind us. I do have one last thing (I think!) to say on the matter, though. The meme that is emerging as the front-runner for the most-repeated and therefore the most enduring on the question of why Vol fans were so upset about Kiffin leaving is this: "It's not so much that he left, but how he left."
That's mostly true for me, but I wanted to add a component to it for the sake of clarification. It wasn't just how, it was when and how and what he did in the short time he was here. More specifically, he and his staff were implementing a risky long term plan, asking everyone to buy in, and they up and quit in the middle of it, leaving us to fend for ourselves in a game plan we never would have chosen had it been our decision to make.
Kiffin came to Tennessee and immediately began making waves, insulting other SEC programs and coaches and engaging in a super-aggressive recruiting strategy that always bordered, and sometimes ventured into, recklessness. On the aggression, I appreciated its benefits, analogizing it to an all-out blitz on third down. Going all out to sack the quarterback on a regular basis can deliver results even if you sometimes get an unintentional personal foul for hitting the QB late. Aggression can be good in football, even though it sometimes has its down side. We had a very good recruiting class last year, and this year's was shaping up to be even better, perhaps even top three or five.
Regarding the chest-beating and prodding our rivals, I likened that to the classic military strategy of burning the bridges behind you:
So if all Kiffin's done is recruit well, and if he may or may not actually win games in the fall, what in the world is he thinking thumping his chest and insulting rivals who almost certainly have a significant advantage over his own team?
I think it's quite possible that he's consciously burning bridges to motivate his team. The phrase "burning bridges" has a negative connotation today, but the phrase derives from a common strategy employed by the commanders of ancient armies invading hostile territory. Few things motivate more than foreclosing any and all possibility of retreat. Sure, in war it may get a bunch of your troops killed and result in catastrophic failure, but it does, by motivating the combatants, improve to a degree the chance of success by removing "giving up" as an option, and in any event, the worst case scenario in football is mere embarrassment.
It's funny how this is flowing through to fans as well. Kiffin's audacity has rivals and their fans outraged, which is making them want to not only beat our team but to embarrass them in the process. The prospect of embarrassment is in turn making Vol fans want to beat their rivals even more to prove them wrong. It is not much of a stretch to think the players feel the same way.
When both sides are highly motivated to do their best against each other, well, isn't that what we want? And underdogs have little to lose. If the chest-thumping ends in an utter thrashing, well, what did we expect? But if the underdog manages to keep it close, it will likely be characterized as the favorite's failure to administer the beating they so wanted to deliver. And if the underdog manages a surprising win? Well, who needs bridges when you've taken up residence in the castle?
That was Lane Kiffin's message: no surrender, no retreat. He crossed into enemy territory, removed retreat as an option, and intentionally infuriated the enemy. No doubt, this is highly uncomfortable to players and fans, but that's the idea of that strategy. And it had our undermanned team and fatigued fan base motivated to play and cheer well for almost every game of the season. We didn't make ourselves at home in the castle, but neither were we embarrassed on the field of battle. We most certainly did not retreat.
So there we were heading into the second season, poised for another run at the castle. Thinking nothing about giving up or quitting or high-tailing it to safer ground. After all, that had been cut off as a possibility.
Cut off as a possibility for everyone but Lane Kiffin, that is. He helicoptered out of there in the dark of night, leaving his troops behind without a leader, without a plan, and without any means of escape. And not only that, he took his best generals with him and attempted to take our weapons as well. He might as well have, as Chris Low put it, napalmed the place. And if the rumor is true that he said that the recruits were coming to UT for the coaching staff and not to wear the yellow uniforms, well that's just spitting out the helicopter on the folks he'd just abandoned.
That's the reason I was upset. It wasn't that he left, it was both when and how he left. He didn't finish the dangerous thing that he started. He left his team in the heat of battle, in the midst of an incredibly risky strategic plan that he convinced everyone but himself to commit to. He may have done some good things while he was here. He may have been implementing a viable, long-term winning strategy. But he's lying to himself if he can't see that by leaving when he did that he undid all of it and actually left us in a worse position than we were before.
But Derek Dooley is right. The time for worrying about the past is over. It's time to look to the future, and obsessing about Kiffin merely gives him power over us he does not deserve. I for one intend to deny him that.