Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kiffin Departed For Better Job; Get Over It

When Lane Kiffin resigned as coach of the Tennessee Volunteers' football team for the head coaching position at USC, reaction from the normal media channels has been electric. Never mind that Kiffin left Knoxville for unquestionably a better job. The sin was that he left Tennessee after just one season. For that, he's a traitor.

When Brian Kelly left Cincinnati for Notre Dame, there was some initial negative reaction of a coach leaving his team on the eve of a big bowl game, but most media elites agreed that he left for a better job. Never mind that Cincy had a BCS date ahead of them and a chance to finish the season with a perfect record. Instead, Kelly departed after the team's emotional come-from-behind victory over Pittsburgh to reach the BCS, leaving an interim coach to lead the team in the Sugar Bowl against Florida. Predictably, Cincy lost 51-24 in the biggest game of their season, while their coach rolled around in his new money in South Bend.

ESPN college football analyst and UT grad Gene Wojciechowski issued a classis slash-and-burn essay about betrayal, BS, and egotism which, he would lead us to believe, was unique to Kiffin. Newsflash - ALL COLLEGE COACHES ARE THE SAME! They are snake oil salesmen. They have loyalties to themselves and only themselves. Guys like Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno may be the exception to the rule, although both are likely to have egos the size of Mall of America Field. Most coaches are always on the lookout for the next job; the next challenge. Look at Nick Saban. He bailed out on Michigan State, LSU, and the Miami Dolphins all within an eight-year span. The exits were abrupt and almost legendary:
  • Michigan State - After leading the Spartans to a 9-2 mark, Saban resigned after the final regular season game and left for LSU after six seasons in East Lansing, leading interim coach Bobby Williams to coach the bowl game.
  • LSU - Saban spent five largely successful seasons in Baton Rouge, culminating in splitting the 2003 NCAA National Championship. After the 2004 season, he resigned to take over as the head coach of the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
  • Miami Dolphins - The Dolphins were searching for stability after Don Shula's tenure ended in 1995, and thought they had found it with Saban's hiring. He had an NFL pedigree and said all the right things. His tenure in Miami lasted a whopping two seasons, and Saban bolted for Alabama with an NFL coaching record of 15-17. Despite saying he wouldn't take the job, he did it anyway, leaving years on his contract and stunned players.
The Saban situation is but one example of coaches jumping around like a fart in a bottle. Of course, you could list many others, such as Rich Rodriguez, who bolted West Virginia for Michigan after the 2007 season and left his Mountaineers to play in a BCS game under an interim coach. It's not unique to college football, either. Bobby Petrino bolted the NFL's Atlanta Falcons for the University of Arkansas after only 13 games, after leaving Louisville the season prior. He had signed a 10-year extension at Louisville one season before leaving for the Falcons. College basketball coaches are beginning to be recycled as frequently as NBA and NHL bosses. There is no such thing as loyalty in sports; college or pro.

Of course, the big issue here is Kiffin himself. He was highly-successful at a very young age under Pete Carroll at USC. He coached the receivers and was later offensive coordinator, spending seven seasons under Carroll. In the final few years on the SC staff, Kiffin was recruiting coordinator and helped attract top-five recruiting classes. He left SC for the Oakland Raiders and spent one season-plus laboring under Al Davis. He was 5-15 there and was fired "with cause." He ended up at Tennessee in a big hire for the Volunteers, a program which had had only two coaches in 30 years prior to Kiffin. He said all the right things in Knoxville, attracted a strong recruiting class for 2009 and had another good one in the works for 2010, and played Alabama and Florida tough on the road. Still, the Vols finished a mediocre 7-6 and was crushed in its bowl game. There were plenty of off-the-field issues in Knoxville, involving Kiffin (accusing Florida coach Urban Meyer of cheating) and his players (robbery charges, guns, etc.). Still, it is undeniable that Kiffin had roots with SC and is leaving Knoxville for a much better job.

Nobody knows whether or not Kiffin can coach. He is 12-21 in his two seasons-plus as a head coach and is only 34 years old. He was handed the keys to college football's marquee program with somewhat suspect credentials, but you cannot fault him for taking the job.

He preached loyalty to his players, recruits, and fans in Tennessee and bailed out after one season amid allegations of recruiting violations by "hostesses." The program is in no better shape than the one he inherited, and Tennessee will now have to find itself a new coach 14 months after it thought it had hired a good young one for a long time. One can understand the Volunteers' frustration to a point, but Kiffin saved the school from a lot of problems by walking away after just one season. It is one of the nation's premier football universities with a great stadium, active booster club, and almost unlimited resources. They'll find a good coach soon, hopefully one who is able to save the 2010 recruiting class and get the program on the right track. There aren't many Gopher football fans who wouldn't trade their program's current state for Tennessee's, despite the uncertainty.

Remember, Gopher fans, he was apparently in the mix for the vacancy here after Glen Mason's firing after the 2006 season, but ultimately lost out to Tim Brewster. If Kiffin had taken the Gopher job, they likely would not have finished 1-11 in 2007, but would still be looking for a new coach today. See, it could always be worse.

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