He’s a young coach who certainly benefited from his famous NFL dad. He’s a good offensive mind, a former quarterback, with an NFL background but no college head coaching experience.
But enough about former Alabama coach Mike Shula.
We’re here to discuss Lane Kiffin, reportedly the new head football coach at the University of Tennessee. A lot of people will assess this hire, say it will or won’t work, before Kiffin takes the podium next week. But no one knows. He could be the next Mark Richt. Or he could be the next — well, Kiffin and Shula sure do have a lot in common, you know?
We do know this: Kiffin is in no way qualified for the Tennessee job. That doesn’t mean he’ll fail. It means Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton is basing his future employment on a very risky investment.
Kiffin, who is just 10 months older than Peyton Manning, was never even the sole offensive coordinator at Southern Cal. He shared those duties for two years with Steve Sarkisian after the Trojans claimed national championships in 2003 and ’04. USC did not win a title in either season with Kiffin as co-offensive coordinator and had the infamous, championship-wrecking 13-9 loss to UCLA. Kiffin coached 20 mostly miserable games with the Oakland Raiders, winning five.
Raiders owner Al Davis, a man who generates almost a half-million Google hits if you type “Al Davis crazy,” hired, then fired, Kiffin. So Davis is the one who made Kiffin, turned down by the University of Minnesota before taking the Oakland job, a national name. Yeah, Al Davis.
Given Kiffin’s experience, his hiring is the equivalent of throwing a cub into a den of lions. The challenges and expectations are enormous. Every year, Kiffin will face Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Mark Richt and Steve Spurrier. He inherits a team with no proven quarterback.
The Vols cannot wait much longer for an SEC championship. It’s already been a decade. How many more years will longsuffering Tennessee fans wait? Until 2011? Maybe 2012? The job is daunting, and a 33-year-old with no college head coaching experience will be guiding the way.
But maybe Hamilton needed to take a chance. Maybe a daring league requires a daring move. Maybe Hamilton felt the status quo — hiring a successful coach such as Butch Davis, Mike Leach or Brian Kelly — would simply generate the status quo number of wins to stick around, like nine or 10 per season. Again, there are so many questions.
Will Monte Kiffin, who is 68, take a massive pay cut and work for his son? Adding a legend like Monte Kiffin would be a coup for the Vols. But Tennessee’s defense is already pretty dominating. And since when has defense ever been the problem at Tennessee under coordinator John Chavis?
Kiffin, of course, could add former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron to the staff. Again, a nice defensive hire who has a background of recruiting players from the South. But could Orgeron’s recruits qualify or stay in school? Again, an unknown. Orgeron’s recruiting classes at Ole Miss looked wonderful on those Rivals.com rankings. But almost one-third of his recruits either didn’t qualify or quit the team.
There’s so much we don’t know. It’s risky. It’s exciting. And it certainly is upstaging “Phillip Fulmer Appreciation Day.”
Hamilton better be right. Shula didn’t get an appreciation day. And if Kiffin turns out like Shula, neither will Hamilton on his way out.