At 7:53 last night, a listener line rang at the studio I do my 107.5 the Game radio show from here in Columbia. The gentleman calling told me he was a high level Tennessee booster but enjoys my program and wanted to give me a tip: Lane Kiffin was heading to USC, with a press conference to come within two hours. I started working to confirm it, and then around fifteen minutes later Tennessee recruiting "intern" Steve Rubio Twittered out the following: "Ruh Roh". Ruh roh, indeed. Kiffin leaves the Vols high and dry, showing absolutely no gratitude for them being foolish enough to give him big money when he was an unemployed guy that no other school was after as a head coach. Think his son Knox will have his name changed to South Central now? One of the girls from the ongoing UT hostess recruiting scandal sums the Knoxville take up nicely on her Twitter. Sometimes a picture's worth a thousand words (warning - vulgar content). QB Nick Stephens and WR Denarius Moore seem somewhat upset as well.
So what does Tennessee have to show for the Kiffin experience? One season with a 7-6 record and a bowl loss. No, they didn't actually beat anyone good, but they sort of scared Alabama thanks to a late fumble and covered the spread against UF. (Lane lost to a bad UCLA team, too. Wonder if that'll come up in L.A.?) They have a lingering NCAA investigation to deal with, and what should be a decimated recruiting class. There was a high profile, embarassing armed robbery involving three of Lane's supposed elite recruits. Let's not forget the immortal Li'l Wayne lyric "Smoke weed, talk shit like Lane Kiffin" - the one Lane bragged boosted UT's street cred. Did Fulmer ever do that for you, Vol fans?
More than anything else, UT fans will have the feeling of having been used as a stepping stone, something that NEVER happens to an SEC team. Think about it - other than Guy Morriss to Baylor from Kentucky and Dennis Franchione from Alabama to Texas A&M as a result of the probation they got hammered with, no one has left the SEC for another college job outside the conference in DECADES. Tennessee's fans bent over backwards to defend this guy when everyone outside their school told them he was a tool. His supposed "master plan" was exactly what we thought it was - an immature, overmatched coach making it up as he goes along and periodically lying his tail off ("I fired my driver and secretaries, because I'm that tough" "no, I haven't fired my strength coach despite him having already told you I did" "no, we didn't send those hostesses" "no, I never said anything about South Carolina players pumping gas - the kid just made that up despite having witnesses that heard it") to cover up the fact he either didn't know or didn't care about the rules.
What can Tennessee do now? Well, one name they looked at seriously last time was Air Force coach Troy Calhoun. Maybe they go down that path again, although some feel like they'll need a bigger name. Will Muschamp seems to be the early name being thrown out there - another first time college head coach seems like a highly questionable decision to me, should that be something they pursue, and Texas is a better job than UT so they'd better have a ton of money to throw at him to convince him not to wait for it. Trying to bridge the gap with Vol tradition by hiring David Cutcliffe's been brought up, although that would sure be a radical shift from the "recruiting is everything" nature of the last choice. People will try and bring up Jon Gruden based on the fact he coached there once and his wife is from there. Again, Gruden is not a college coach. His offense took three years for NFL guys to pick up, and now he's going to run it with a kid who's never played before? Sure. Gruden can make between six to seven million without having to do any recruiting the next time he chooses to coach. UT isn't offering that anytime soon. This is going to be fascinating. By the way, other than hiring Bruce Pearl, exactly what has UT's athletic director Mike Hamilton done to justify keeping his job?