KNOXVILLE — Lane Kiffin has agreed in principle to succeed Phillip Fulmer as the University of Tennessee football coach, two sources close to the program told the Times Free Press on Friday.
Kiffin, 33, was fired from his head coaching position with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders following months of tension with outspoken owner Al Davis. Kiffin was prominently mentioned with several other head coaching jobs, including Clemson and the University of Washington.
A spokesperson for UT athletic director Mike Hamilton said the search “isn’t finished,” but multiple sources said the agreement with Kiffin could be confirmed and publicly announced as soon as Monday.
Attempts Friday to contact Hamilton and Kiffin’s agent, Memphis-based Jimmy Sexton, were not successful. Hamilton on Wednesday denied a report from Knoxville radio station WNML that he had offered Kiffin the position.
Kiffin, who at 31 was hired as the youngest head coach in NFL history in January 2007, spent six seasons as an assistant at Southern California. The son of longtime Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin held various roles for the Trojans, including tight ends coach, wide receivers coach, passing game coordinator and ultimately offensive coordinator. He split play-calling responsibilities with co-coordinator Steve Sarkisian for the Trojans in 2005 and 2006.
Kiffin was paid about $2 million per year at Oakland. It was not immediately clear how much UT agreed to pay him — and for how many years — but Hamilton has said he would pay any coach “fair market value.”
A report on ESPN.com said Kiffin has “talked with his father ... about joining him at Tennessee.” The Web site also reported that New Orleans Saints assistant and former Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron could potentially come to Knoxville. Orgeron and Lane Kiffin coached together for two seasons at Southern Cal.
David Reaves, Kiffin’s brother-in-law, is the quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator at South Carolina. The Gamecocks, among others, actively recruited UT’s high school commitments after the Nov. 3 announcement that Fulmer wouldn’t return next season.
Chris Kiffin, Lane’s brother, is an intern with the Nebraska football program.
Kiffin, who has preferred in the past to run a pro-style offense and gained national acclaim at Southern Cal as a recruiter, would be UT’s fifth coach in 45 years, and the third since 1977.
Hamilton — or the search firm he hired — spoke with several other candidates for the head coaching post, according to several sources and media reports. That list included but wasn’t limited to North Carolina head coach Butch Davis; Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach; University of Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly; TCU head coach Gary Patterson; University of Minnesota head coach Brian Kelly; and Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun.
Several outlets reported that Hamilton also contacted Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden and Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, but it’s not clear whether either former UT assistant expressed any legitimate interest in the position.
Kiffin was born May 9, 1975, in Bloomington, Minn., but the Raiders’ Web site listed Los Angeles as his hometown. He and wife Layla have two daughters, 3-year-old Landry and 1-year-old Pressley.
Kiffin played quarterback for Fresno State from 1994 to ’96, with current California head coach Jeff Tedford as his position coach. Kiffin started his coaching career at Fresno State in 1997, helping with the quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive backs for two seasons.
He coached Colorado State’s offensive line in 1999 and spent one season as a defensive quality control coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars before heading to Southern Cal in 2001.