Though some in Hollywood would likely insist “Gladiator”, “Young Einstein” or “A Beautiful Mind” work just fine, perhaps the most appropriate title for the Lane Kiffin-to-USC saga is one that serves as a tribute to Pauly Shore’s fine film career, as well: “The Weasel.”
In Los Angeles, of course, Kiffin’s twisted, shotgun Odyssey from Knoxville to Southern California will be labeled part romance, part caper film, part action thriller. Toss in his father Monte and longtime former USC assistants Ed Orgeron, and possibly Norm Chow, and you can even make it a buddy film. Think “Wild Hogs” without any comedy whatsoever and a tutorial on the Tampa 2 defense. Incorporate Kiffin’s smoking hot wife Layla (played by herself, naturally), and you have a fine leading lady, too. It’s a script any Hollywood studio exec worth his salt would die for.
In the Rocky Top hills of Tennessee, though, it’s a horror flick; a slasher film. A man (perhaps “boy” would be the better word choice) comes riding into town, muddies a long-standing tradition with brash un-Fulmer-like bravado, fields a team of criminals, and then deserts the premises for greener pastures when a better opportunity presents itself.
If Pete Carroll left USC in a state of uncertainty, Lane Kiffin is leaving Tennessee in a state of rubble and shrapnel. And if Carroll’s a worm for leaving the Trojans high and dry, Lane Kiffin’s a snake of the highest order. As of Tuesday night, that snake was on a plane to La La Land.
Whether he’s a snake, weasel, or just your garden variety spoiled brat, it’s really of no great circumstance. What matters is that Lane Kiffin is done with Tennessee after just one year and on to bigger and better things. In his wake, he leaves a program that was likely better off having never known him at all.
Naturally, Kiffin’s Tuesday night Tennessee “farewell” press conference started thirty minutes late and produced little more than a 60-second soundbite. He didn’t thank a school administrator, acknowledge any of his players and/or coaching staff by name, and stood nervously — like a weasel — with crossed arms, an all too casual short-sleeved polo shirt for the given circumstances, and a nervous sway. He alluded to his 14 months in Knoxville as if he’d been serving time in some far off distant land.
This was not the same Lane Kiffin who boldly took swipes at Urban Meyer and exhibited great arrogance and bravado in media interviews throughout the season. This was a 34-year-old man (er, boy) who hasn’t won a thing as a head coach sneaking out the back door and creeping up the football coaching ladder, yet again.
According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, “Dozens of students and fans marched into the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex on Tuesday night chanting obscenities at Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, who was informing his players about his departure to Southern California. … The crowd eventually became rowdy and were asked to disperse without incident.”
Various blogs Tuesday night showed some of the creative signs and art work that UT students exhibited on campus Tuesday night. One of them read, “Go home traitor! It’s time!” Others weren’t quite as G-Rated. One student reportedly brought a mattress to the center of campus and lit it on fire. Thanks for the memories, Lane.
One and done. That was the Lane Kiffin Era in Tennessee. Without a notable win on his pro or college head-coaching resume, Kiffin’s now leaping from one national powerhouse to another
It’s one hell of a gifted lily pad, too. One that ignores three players being arrested in November on attempting armed robbery charges, while wearing Tennessee football garb. One that turns a blind eye to dragging Urban Meyer, one of the classier gentlemen in all of college football, through the mud without Meyer ever being there to defend himself. One that took countless pot shots at SEC officials throughout the year. One that responded to losing to UCLA at home by noting afterwards, “We should have won by multiple touchdowns.”
Class all the way.
Left to pick up the pieces in Knoxville is interim coach Kippy Brown. Reassuring recruits and current players will be among Brown and the rest of the remaining UT coaching staff’s top priorities in the coming days. If rival SEC coaches haven’t gotten in touch with Tennessee’s top verbal commitments yet, they will by Wednesday morning.
To no one’s surprise, word leaked that assistant coach Ed Orgeron is already on campus at USC, getting on the phones with some of those very same recruits, as well.
Back in October 2007, the media jumped to call Al Davis everything from “crazy” to “senile” when the Raiders owner fired Kiffin under the most bizarre circumstances imaginable. With an overhead projector exhibiting a hand written letter he had penned to Kiffin, Davis referred to his then 32-year-old coach as a “flat-out liar" and said he was guilty of "bringing disgrace to the organization."
On June 8, 2009, the Raiders organization issued a statement about Lane Kiffin’s hiring at Tennessee. The statement read: "Lane Kiffin is a flat-out liar. He lied to the team, he lied to the fans, and he lied to the media. He will try to destroy that university like he tried to destroy the Raiders."
At the time it was released, the media viewed it as nothing more than sour grapes. In hindsight, Davis was right on the money. Once a weasel, always a weasel.
Now, the rat will have his cheese (and some wine) in Southern California.
After he fired Kiffin in ’07, Davis famously noted, “It hurts because I picked the guy. I picked the wrong guy."
The University of Tennessee now knows just how Davis felt.
And if history tells us anything, so — eventually — will USC.