What a ride it’s been for Lane Kiffin. From a young hotshot coordinator at USC, to an NFL head coach, to the Tennessee head coach, to the USC head coach, and back to college coordinator — Kiffin has seen it all.
And to his credit, he’s hit rock bottom and come all the way out of it for the better.
Kiffin entered the Alabama coaching rehab facility under Nick Saban and experienced plenty of success before his strange exit during the College Football Playoffs. That led to the Florida Atlanta gig, allowing him to re-establish himself as a head coach. Now he seems to be in a perfect place with Ole Miss, hoping his high-scoring brand can bring the Rebels back to relevancy.
However, around these parts, you can’t discuss Lane Kiffin without going back to that moment. You know the one — the one where he left Tennessee high and dry in January to take his dream job at USC. The one that seemingly sent the Tennessee football program into the dumpster to stay for the next decade.
Kiffin had just finished a respectable season in Knoxville, going 7-6 overall. The program was showing plenty of signs of life, but that was all undone with a late night press conference announcing that Kiffin was going back home.
This week Kiffin discussed the move with USA Today, again saying USC was the only school that would have made him make such a move.
“It’s not like I was at Tennessee going, ‘OK, there’s 20 better jobs, and when one opens, I’m going,’” Kiffin said. “If you’re at Tennessee, outside of USC, because of how special it was to me, I don’t know where you would go.”
You know the rest. Tennessee was forced to make a hire after the coaching carousel had stopped spinning, which ended up being Derek Dooley. Dooley lasted three seasons, finishing with a mark of 15-21 overall. That turned into Butch Jones, and then Jeremy Pruitt — both ending in disaster.
Kiffin flamed out at USC not too much after Dooley, going 28-15 in a little over three full seasons. How would things have ended up at Tennessee had he stayed? It’s a question that I’d really like to know the answer to, considering his year one success in Knoxville. Was he mature enough for that big of a gig back then? Probably not. But his offensive success does still speak for itself. Even if he doesn’t work long term at Tennessee, just avoiding the forced Dooley hire probably has the program in a better spot today, but who really knows?
Kiffin has repaired his relationship with Tennessee fans over the years, showing plenty of support for the Vols when possible on Twitter. We’ve come a long way from his first appearance back at Neyland Stadium, and now he’s set to make another visit this season.
Tennessee and Ole Miss will play on Saturday, October 16th in Knoxville.