Commentary: Kiffin is the right pick for UT

Sunday, November 30, 2008 at 11:02pm

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.

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By: Henroid83 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Nice op-ed, Matt, but I'd add a couple more immediately relevant strengths to the list:a) Kiffin is about as young as it gets for a BCS-level head coach, and while with most assistants that might be a liability, Kiffin has already proven that he has all the tools to coach at whatever level he needs to. Ergo, his youth becomes a massive boon, meaning he has less family ties than most other head coaches and can devote much more of the energy and idealism needed to build a program, especially in a merciless SEC littered with names established beyond respute.b) He's a guru of signal-callers. This is the same guy who Carroll wanted to move in ahead of Norm Chow in the months preceding Chow's move to the Titans. Kiffin is an overall coaching prodigy (college football's top program's OC at 29) and mostly because of his work with offenses. After working with Palmer, Leinart, Cassel, Booty and Sanchez, Kiffin should be able to get Crompton to listen enough so that he has an Ainge-like senior season.

By: mwilson on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I agree with both those points, Henroid.

By: BigPapa on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Here's the Con:1. he's never actually been a coordinator, muchless a head coach for a college team.2. recruiting at USC is not a difficult task.3. USC runs a dirty program. (see Reggie Bush.)4. he's got ZERO ties to the SEC. 5. this is NOT the PAC Ten.5. the coaches in the SEC are better than the coaches he faced in the AFC West.

By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Well, I hardly think that Lane Kiffin can produce any worst results over the next four years than Phil Fulmer's last four.

By: Cowboy84 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Let's hope it works out better for the Big Orange than Rich Rodriguez has for the Big Blue.

By: JeffF on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I am disappointed that my alma mater has joined the other BCS schools in refusing to even ponder minority candidates. The NFL was drug into the real world kicking and screaming and it has paid off handsomely. Why is it impossible for Black coaches to get respect in the big college system? There are only 6 African-American NCAA Div 1-A head coaches and three of them are out of jobs as of the last game of the season. It is hard to move up when no one is forced to hire based on skill and competency. The Tennessee Athletic Director simply went down the list that every other AD in the lily white fraternity uses.Tennessee fans just got the hire they deserved. Rather than wait until after the last games of the season and hiring a respectable coach, they pushed and pushed until they got what was available, an unemployed coach with no experience. He smells a lot like the deer in the headlights coach Alabama got 6 years ago.

By: BigPapa on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I think GA, AL, FL are quite happy with the hire.

By: 8th_St on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Jeez, Bill Calahan? Lots of luck with that!