published Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Local Tennessee fans feel betrayed by Kiffin


by Chris Carroll

Less than 12 hours after Lane Kiffin left the University of Tennessee, local Tennessee fans knew exactly how they felt about the former Vols football coach.

“I’d say, ‘Don’t let the door hit you on the butt when you leave,’” said Jimmy Pickett, owner of JJ & Friends barber shop in Red Bank.

Much like the players Mr. Kiffin inherited and recruited over his 14-month-long tenure at Tennessee, fans trusted the young coach’s confidence and defended him through a 7-6 season filled with distractions off the field.

But that trust burned away after Tuesday night’s minute-long press conference in which Mr. Kiffin bid farewell to Knoxville for good and headed for the head football coach job at the University of Southern California.

“I hope he hasn’t done too much damage to Knoxville,” said Randy Burns, internal auditor for the Chattanooga City Council. “I don’t think I’m going to miss him.”

Despite a 5-15 career head coaching record up to last season with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, Mr. Kiffin promised superior recruits at UT and predicted a win against perennial powerhouse Florida that never materialized.

Some fans say they doubted his confident veneer from the beginning of his brief SEC stay.

“I’m going to say ‘disappointed’ is one feeling I have, but I wasn’t a big fan of his in the first place,” said Deb Miller, an accountant with Jerry Miller CPA.

“He’s run his mouth,” she said, and there was always the thought that “he wouldn’t be anything without his dad,” vaunted UT defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

Mr. Kiffin’s coaching reputation grew from an ability to lure players from across the nation to all of his various posts in college football, including Knoxville, experts have said. According to Rivals.com, a Web site that tracks college football recruiting, Tennessee claims the nation’s ninth-best class leading up to National Signing Day on Feb. 3.

But players often sign with a school because of how coaches plan to incorporate them into games, said Mr. Pickett. And now that Mr. Kiffin is gone, there’s a worry that recruited players will decide to go somewhere else, affecting the team next season and beyond, he said.

Mr. Burns said he is “real concerned” about the program.

“There’s no doubt there’s been damage done and I guess it’ll be maybe a couple of years before we know how much,” he said.

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