As to precisely what was said between new Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin and departing quarterback B.J. Coleman during their closed-door meeting Thursday, Coleman is taking the high road.
Kiffin is scrambling like eggs for damage control.
Even if the coach has some double-secret taping system, he seems to be guarding it more closely than Nixon protected his Watergate tapes.
But if you want to consider whom to believe when UT’s spin doctors take over this weekend, wouldn’t you be more inclined to side with the student-athlete handpicked by Volunteers athletic director Mike Hamilton for a prestigious leadership conference than a coach who’s already wrongly accused an opponent of recruiting violations because he didn’t know the rules?
What is already clear is that Colemangate will divide the Big Orange Nation until at least the first game, and perhaps the entire season, depending on what kind of quarterback play the Vols get in 2009.
If another mediocre to poor season unfolds, the Lane Train can pull its fans around in a grocery cart. If, however, current No. 1 Jonathan Crompton or someone else steps up to spark a high-octane offense to nine or more wins, Volniacs will dismiss Coleman as a spoiled preppie who cared more about himself than the team.
That’s not the way it should be. Coleman showed the patience of Job and the grace of Reagan in dealing with a difficult, if not impossible situation. But the orangenecks from Bristol to Bolivar will see it differently if Tennessee wins big without him. That’s just sports.
Yet its immediate impact is already evident. Before I finished my second cup of coffee this morning, my daily sojourn to drop off my daughters at school was met by the following three comments.
(A) “Kiffin’s an idiot.”
(B) “Do you think B.J. really could wind up at UTC?”
(C) “I love B.J., but I think he’s making a mistake.”
Let’s briefly address each idea. Kiffin isn’t an idiot, but he does appear to be in over his head at the moment. He needlessly angered SEC opponents and some high school coaches during his first 75 days. Now he has clearly misread his best immediate hope at quarterback, compounding the problem by apparently twice putting Coleman off after scheduling a meeting with the player to discuss his future.
A coach who really wants his player to stay doesn’t stiff him twice. Moreover, if Kiffin felt Coleman wasn’t his starter, B.J. richly deserved to know that as soon as the subject was broached.
Instead, Kiffin once more behaved as if he didn’t know how to handle the situation, which can’t be comforting for anyone who bleeds orange.
As for Coleman winding up at UTC, which is also his father’s alma mater, that depends on how desperate Coleman is to play, since he’s barely seen game action for two football seasons. The Mocs could give him a chance to play immediately and become something of a hero for helping new coach Russ Huesman turn the program around.
Were he to transfer to, say, Duke and his former UT offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, Coleman would have to sit out another year, which means he would be inactive essentially for three straight years before finally returning to game action in 2010.
On the other hand, UTC’s APR woes could keep Coleman from competing in a playoff game until his senior year. Beyond that, if you believe you can make a difference at the major college level, dropping down a division might not be appealing.
And regarding the notion that Coleman is making a mistake, only he can answer that. He’s an exceedingly bright, decent, humble young man. If five years down the road he’s as happy and content as he once was at McCallie, he made the right move, however it turns out.
Kiffin is in a different place. He was a somewhat divisive hire from the get-go, and his short-term popularity will take an Eric Berry-sized hit over this. Beyond the fans’ affection for a native son, Coleman was also exceedingly popular with the players, who won’t fall for Lame Lane’s official spin.
Not to paint a dire long-term picture here, because the man may stockpile so much talent he can’t lose, but much as Kentucky basketball realized too late that Billy Gillispie wasn’t a good fit for its program, early returns might auger a similar ending for UT and Kiffin, who often looks like a deer in headlights on unscripted subjects.
This is not to proclaim that the newest Big Orange football emperor has no clothes. At least not yet. But if Coleman’s efforts in the Orange and White game and other public scrimmages were any indication, Kiffin may indeed have no quarterback.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...