Read enough Internet message boards and you can become easily convinced that University of Tennessee football’s Lane Train is already a runaway wreck.
The vast majority of Southeastern Conference football fans apparently believe that Lane Kiffin is either an in-over-his-head neophyte or an under-the-table Neanderthal. Neither assessment would seem to bode well for the Vols’ future success.
And perhaps he is. Time always tells. But what if he’s crazy ... like a fox? What if there is much method in this seeming madness of annoying every SEC rival to the point of distraction?
What if the 33-year-old Kiffin really is a Boy Wonder rather than Boy Blunder, as one of my esteemed colleagues in Memphis recently tabbed him?
If your hair is edged with gray and your stomach a tad soft you are almost certainly angered, embarrassed, befuddled, or all three, over Kiffin’s gonzo, in-your-face style during his first 10 weeks on the job.
Wrongly accusing Florida coach Urban Meyer of cheating before you’ve won a single college game certainly isn’t a smart recipe for winning friends or influencing people in a positive way.
And it’s light years removed from the poor-mouth coaching style of the Mount Rushmore of SEC coaches — Bear Bryant, General Robert Neyland, Shug Jordan and John Vaught..
Even South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier — long the mouth of the South — looks old-school next to Kiffin.
But that’s the point. This isn’t a guy without a clue. This is a guy who just really might have all the answers to building a championship program in the 21st century.
“Every coach I considered could get us eight, nine, 10 wins a year,” said UT athletic director Mike Hamilton last week. “But Lane was the one guy I felt had a plan to get us 12 or 13 wins and a shot at a national championship. I just thought he was unique.”
Maybe that’s why Kiffin will return to Pahokee (Fla.) High to recruit junior wide receiver De’Joshua Johnson. This despite the firestorm surrounding his recent signing of fellow Pahokee product Nu’Keese Richardson. Richardson was the player whose prep coach — Blaze Thompson — Kiffin implied tried to keep the player from going to UT.
Nevertheless, Johnson told a web site devoted to Big Orange athletics on Wednesday: “I’m open to Tennessee. I heard about the comments that he made and I’m going to talk to him about it, but Tennessee’s a good school.”
Kiffin is doing such a good job of recruiting that running back Bryce Brown, arguably the nation’s top unsigned prospect, said of his trip to UT this past weekend: “I had a great visit. I had a chance to meet with Coach Kiffin and had a lot of one-on-one time with him.”
And if the coach breaks a few secondary rules along the way, so what? Did anyone make him stop recruiting those players? He knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s pushing the envelope to its limits and until the NCAA pushes back harder than a slap on the wrist, he knows the Vols will get their recruit more times than not.
Moreover, does anyone really believe that Southern Cal coach Pete Carroll would have made Kiffin his recruiting coordinator if he didn’t know the rules? He knows them well enough to know how to get around a few of them, which, sadly, is a huge key to winning at the BCS level.
But don’t listen to me. Listen to Kiffin.
In an interview with the Knoxville News Sentinel last week he said the negative publicity concerning some of his words and actions, “Has helped a lot. For our program to be in the news so much now, not just locally but nationally. For the players that we need to recruit ... seeing our colors and logos, it helps us out tremendously down the road.”
The NCAA could change this, of course. They could begin to ban schools from recruiting players where a secondary violation surfaces that isn’t accidental. Blackball a few schools from recruiting the Next Big Thing and much of this would stop.
But unless or until that happens, the hunch here is that college football fans would be wise to either climb aboard the Lane Train or get out of its way. Because Kiffin doesn’t appear likely to slow down for anyone or anything in his path.
E-mail Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org
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 ...