Lane Kiffin will be named the next head football coach at Tennessee today at 1 p.m. Central time.
That much we know. The next question: Is this the right hire for UT?
Is it the best possible hire? Maybe not, but it’s one that certainly could pay off down the road.
Among the parties apparently interested, Texas Tech’s Mike Leach would have been the safe move. He’s been a head coach of a program in a BCS program and has had success. He’s an offensive genius. But there was talk that he might not fit in personality-wise in Knoxville. Plus, there would have had to be buy-outs and contract negotiations with Texas Tech. Kiffin was ready to start immediately.
Plenty of folks have pointed out the downsides to Kiffin’s hire. He doesn’t have much experience, just a year and a half as Raiders head coach. He had plenty of success as an assistant at USC, but with Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and the others, it’s hard to decide who gets credit on that staff and who doesn’t.
I think those criticisms are pretty thin. The list of strong points is pretty long.
First, he’s well-known. While getting fired by the increasingly bizarre Al Davis at midseason might not be the publicity you want, at least recruits nationwide know who he is.
Second, he has something very valuable he starts with: Credibility. He can tell recruits and current UT players that what he says worked for Leinart, Bush and the rest. He can tell them it will work for them, too. That’s something not many coaches in the country have going for them.
Third, and not least, he appears to be building a stellar staff. His father, Monte Kiffin, appears to be set to join his son in Knoxville. The elder Kiffin is known as one of the premier defensive minds in football. It also looks like South Carolina recruiting coordinator David Reaves will join as well. He’s known as one of the top recruiters in the nation.
Other names thrown out as possibilities for the staff: Former Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan and former Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron. While neither were successful head coaches, both are considered top-class at their areas of expertise (offense and recruiting, respectively).
One thing is clear. After almost 30 years with many of the same coaches involved with UT football, it will be a completely fresh start on Rocky Top.