The night Lane Kiffin bolted Tennessee, an oral history
Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010 started out like any other day in Knoxville.
By the next morning, all heck had broken loose in Big Orange Country.
The resignation of Tennessee head football coach Lane Kiffin came as such a surprise to the players, fans, media and university itself that all scrambled to try to make sense of things.
What follows is a recollection of events by several folks that played a part, be it big or small, of that fateful date in Tennessee sports history.
So find out what happens when people stop being polite and start setting a mattress on fire.
(The jobs listed for each interviewee are the positions they held on Jan. 12, 2010, followed by their current employment.)
Part I: "You’re $%^&*#! kidding me."
The Vols won seven games in 2009, including victories over nationally ranked rivals Georgia and South Carolina. First-year head coach Lane Kiffin was putting the finishing touches on a top five recruiting class, and some of the new players had already arrived on campus as early enrollees.
The future of Tennessee football appeared to be bright. That was all about to change.
Josh Ward (Sports radio host on The Sports Animal. Today, same position.)
I was hosting Sports 180 with Will West that afternoon. We spent most of our show talking about our belief that Lane Kiffin would take the USC job if it was offered to him. We took calls and read emails from several fans who were very unhappy with us because one, they didn’t believe he would actually leave Tennessee for USC and two, they didn’t think it was appropriate for us to bring up the idea. "He’s Tennessee’s coach," several callers said. "Why would he leave for USC when he would be their fourth or fifth choice at best?" Will and I even had a co-worker tell us in the middle of our show that we didn’t know what we were talking about. We simply explained that Kiffin wanted the job, and Will and I knew for a fact that he wanted the job. Our only question was if USC would offer it.
Mike Hamilton (Athletic Director at University of Tennessee. Today, President of Engagement at Blood:Water Mission.)
I was in Colorado with our IMG team to meet with Dish Network regarding our seven-figure partnership… In our conversation the previous week about Pete (Carroll) potentially going to Seattle, I had asked Lane about the USC job and his interest. He indicated that it would be of interest to him. Even though we both discussed where he might be on USC’s priority list of candidates and agreed there would most likely be other candidates more likely to be selected initially, I was not totally surprised with the call.
Tiffany Carpenter (Asst. AD for Public Relations for UT Athletics. Today, Asst. VP for Marketing at the University of Tennessee.)
I went to work out after work and then met my husband and daughter (Emily was 2-and-a-half years old) for dinner in Turkey Creek. I had left my phone in the car because they were frustrated that I was always on email, Twitter or Facebook. When I got back in the car from dinner, I had three missed calls from football. I called back and was told, "Tiff you need to come in. Lane’s going to USC."
Bud Ford (Associate AD for Media Relations for UT Athletics. Today, retired after 45-and-a-half years of service at the University of Tennessee.)
I was just getting home from mid-week Church Bible study when I got a call from either Tiffany Carpenter or (Associate AD) John Painter. For the life of me I can’t remember which called first … saying that something big was in the works and we were calling a press conference in about an hour and half and I needed to get to the football office. From that point on my phone was on fire from all the calls.
Daniel Hood (Tennessee defensive lineman. Today, runs his own home remodeling company, Hood’s Handyman Service.)
I was at a (Knoxville) Catholic HS basketball game when I got a text message to come to the (UT Football) complex for a team meeting at 9 p.m. I thought this was weird and my father was joking with me saying that it was probably Kiffin leaving.
Cody Pope (Tennessee offensive lineman. Today, works for CH Robinson.)
(Me and) Nick Reveiz, Luke Stocker, Shane Reveiz, Austin Johnson, Daniel Lincoln and Nick Stephens were just all hanging around the apartment. We all liked to eat together when we could and were going to Ruby Tuesdays. We were in the middle of dinner eating while Nick got a call from his Dad (former UT and NFL kicker Fuad Reveiz) saying there was some noise about Lane going to USC. We continued to eat and speculated with each other around the dinner table. Once we all got a mass text simultaneously telling us we had a team meeting out of nowhere later that night, the rumbles started to become more and more relevant.
Rick Russo (WVLT-TV Sports Director. Today, same position.)
I received a call from my station General Manager (Chris Baker). He and I share a mutual contact close to the university, who informed us that a change was imminent with the football program and that Lane Kiffin was stepping down. My initial reaction was one of disbelief, but I had to set aside the surprise and quickly return to the studio for what I knew would be an interesting night.
Tony Geist (Student assistant in UT Sports Information Department and The Volunteer Channel, the UT campus TV station. Today, commercial producer for WBIR-TV.)
I was on VolQuest.com at my house, just searching around the message boards, when I saw someone post that horrible news was going to go down.
John Brice (Senior Writer for VolQuest.com/Rivals.com. Today, Asst. Editor for VolQuest.com/Rivals.com.)
I think we at VolQuest.com were among the first two outlets (along with WVLT-TV) to report the news. I was at dinner in Knoxville and had gotten some texts to keep "my antennae up." I didn’t lend it too much credence earlier in that day. However, while at dinner, my phone began to just get flooded with texts, calls, etc. At the same time the ESPN scroll was showing that Kiffin had emerged as USC’s top candidate, I texted with a member of Kiffin’s staff who was in Orlando at the coaching convention, and this person said, "It’s true. He’s going." I replied like, "No freaking way" and the response was, "Yeah. He’s already accepted the job."
Grant Ramey (UT journalism student. Today, Sports Writer for The Daily Times in Maryville, TN.)
I learned of the news via the infamous Brent Hubbs message board thread on VolQuest. ‘Guys, it’s true’ is the message board thread by which all Tennessee football news will forever be judged. Put that on an orange t-shirt, stand outside Gate 21 (at Neyland Stadium) and rake in the cash.
Carpenter: I pulled my car over in a parking lot and my husband pulled in behind me. I started taking Emily out of my car to put her in Allen’s car and told him, "I’ve got to go back to work. Lane’s going to USC. I’ll see you guys in the morning," to which he replied "You’re $%^&*#! kidding me," and Emily repeats "You’re $%^&*#! kidding." Allen rarely cusses, so this was funny on a couple of levels.
Russo: Within minutes of my arrival back at WVLT, I was on the air announcing to Big Orange Country and the entire state of Tennessee for that matter that the leader of their beloved football program was high-tailing it out of town. I can certainly remember what came out of my mouth as quite frankly, it was how I was feeling at the time. I said, "Folks you’re not going to believe this," and then proceeded to tell them how Lane Kiffin had decided to leave for his "dream job."
Zac Ellis (Asst. Sports Editor at UT campus newspaper, The Daily Beacon. Today, college football writer for Sports Illustrated.)
When the news broke, I was in my apartment in downtown Knoxville. Our staff at The Daily Beacon had wrapped up the next day’s issue earlier that evening, an issue that just happened to be the first newspaper of the spring semester at UT. That paper included a large front-page graphic depicting Tennessee basketball’s upset of No. 1 Kansas from earlier that week. Kiffin’s departure, however, changed that plan at the 11th hour.
Ben DeVault (UT journalism student. Today, Photojournalist for WBIR-TV.)
That was the night before the spring semester started and I was in the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house when the news broke. I was the president of the fraternity and we had just had a formal chapter meeting from 7 p.m. to about 8 p.m. I was in my room taking off my suit when I started hearing expletives yelled almost in unison throughout the entire house.
Tony Basilio (Sports radio host on Southern Roots Radio. Today, Host/Owner — Tony Basilio Show.)
I was talking with my recruiting source ‘X’. He was compiling a list for me of guys who were set to visit. We were laughing at how Kiffin and his staff were accumulating an amazing amount of talent when a report came across the screen that he was taking the USC job.
Carpenter: I called Kassidie Blackstock (Asst. Director of Public Relations) on my drive in and asked her to meet me at the office. Within a matter of minutes, she had Verizon shut off the coaches’ phones. Rumor has it several of the coaches found out on ESPN and couldn’t call anyone to confirm because their phones weren’t working.
Hamilton: I was angry regarding the situation he would be leaving our student-athletes, fans and University in, but shifted very quickly to moving to what was next -given the timing.
Part II: "It was so tense …"
When Kiffin returned to Knoxville that evening (he had been in Orlando attending the American Football Coaches Association Convention) he broke the news to his team.
‘Distraught’ or ‘confused’ are the words I think best sum up that meeting.
Ben Martin (Tennessee defensive end. Today, manages a Target store in Memphis.)
When Lane resigned there was a lot of anger and hurt in the room. The team really bought in to him and his coaching staff.
Hood: The reactions in the room were what you would expect from any team. Some of us understood why he was going and congratulated him. Some others felt like they had been betrayed, and some didn’t really care at all … Also, the late and beloved (Tennessee offensive tackle) Aaron Douglas had some choice words in front of everyone to Kiffin that were respectable because he did speak from his heart when others did not.
Pope: "Distraught" or "confused" are the words I think best sum up that meeting. You had early enrollee freshmen that were part (of the) meeting, guys like Jacques Smith, Tyler Bray, Corey Miller … these guys were kids and they looked like kids during this meeting. I felt bad for them to have to be in that position. They didn’t deserve that and neither did the rest of the team.
LaMarcus Thompson (Tennessee linebacker. Today, works at Airport Honda in Alcoa.)
It was a very tense and frustrating meeting. Lots of not so happy words were exchanged. I think that it was so unexpected and out of the blue it was a shock to us. That’s why it was so tense. A lot of guys took it really hard. Most of us older players were disappointed but knew that USC is where he was from and was his dream job.
Kiffin’s quotes via Volquest.com — January 13, 2010
Lane Kiffin (Tennessee head coach. Today, Alabama offensive coordinator.)
Pope: This is funny. I remember (Tennessee defensive end) Chris Walker being there when I got there and (he) had already talked to Tyler Bray … (Bray) got a text from Coach O (Ed Orgeron, former Tennessee assistant head coach, recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach) saying, "Don’t go to class tomorrow," along with the other recruits. It was very believable if you knew the type of people you were dealing with … great coaches nonetheless but different people.
Hood: The only thing that had everyone upset was that Coach O called some of the recruits and specifically told them not to go to class. One of them had their phone on speaker and we heard Coach O telling them not to go to class. When we confronted Kiffin about it, he said he didn’t know that that was happening and he didn’t initiate it. He then said he hadn’t hired anyone so it had no merit.
Orgeron’s quotes via Los Angeles Times January 14, 2010
Orgeron: Yes, I did call recruits to clear up any questions they had … In my knowledge, I followed the rules correctly. I make tremendously strong ties with families in recruiting.
Orgeron, who was hired as an assistant coach by Lane Kiffin for his new staff at Southern Cal, was asked by reporters if he advised Tennessee’s early enrollees not to go to class the next day, which would mean they would have an easier time transferring.
Orgeron: I’m not going to get into that. I always try to guide them in the right direction and provide information to them to help some young men who are wondering, "Coach, what can I do? What are my options?"
Pope: His (Kiffin’s) ending message and closing line was, "I know I’m leaving this team better off than when I got it." That may or may not have been true but at that moment the team was completely conflicted.
Part III: "We’re burning daylight and he may walk …"
A "media opportunity" was quickly called that evening by the University of Tennessee Athletics Sports Information Department for 9:30 p.m. at the UT football complex. What followed was a series of battles. Sports Information Department vs. Television … Media vs. Media … and everyone fighting the ticking clock as deadlines approached. The bizarre restrictions demanded by Kiffin turned the press conference into a circus.
Carpenter: I got a call saying Coach Kiffin wanted to talk to media so he could explain why he was taking the job. He didn’t want UT fans to think it was personal and wanted to explain it was his dream job.
Ford: It fell on my shoulders to take the lead in informing the media of what would take place and also to make sure from a technical standpoint that all those needs were met as best as possible. Bear in mind that if you were having a live press conference on campus that the Gordon Ball Boardroom was one of the worst places for access that was available for use by UT Athletics. There is no satellite access, no public address system, no theatre seating and the room was located far from the best access doors, limited parking, etc. The room is setup for boardroom use and not a press conference setting. That in itself was offering challenges to media with cables running everywhere and media folks jockeying for position.
Brice: Very surprised a presser was going to take place.
Chris Low (ESPN.com college football writer. Today, same position.)
You hardly ever see a press conference. When a guy bolts, he is gone. When Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas, he was gone. When Charlie Strong left Louisville for Texas, he was gone.
Ramey: Had I known then what I know now, in terms of journalism and public relations, I would’ve bet my two-bedroom, Fort Sanders basement apartment on Tennessee not having a press conference. What’s to gain, or was to gain, from Tennessee’s perspective, by policing a press conference about why your former employee is jumping ship?
Ward: I was stunned that a press conference took place. I still can’t believe it happened. The confusion and madness leading up to it was the only predictable part.
Hamilton: I was not aware of what was happening in Knoxville during my trip back. If I had been on campus, I would not have allowed Lane to attempt a "press conference" on campus because at that point he was no longer our coach and had not been in Knoxville earlier that day. I was initially tied up with going ahead with calls to potential candidates for the opening and then the actual travel back.
Patrick Gipson (Staff writer for Insider Tennessee/Scout.com. Today, Digital Ad Sales at Fox Sports.)
I wanted to get there and experience the chaos that I knew was coming. Not just (for) journalistic purposes, but as a lifelong Tennessee fan and overall curious human being.
Roger Hoover (Student reporter/videographer for UT Athletics Broadcasting. Today, voice of the Jacksonville Suns, AA affiliate of the Miami Marlins.)
I think everyone was largely in shock with what was going down. Only when Bud Ford discussed what Kiffin wanted to do and WBIR-TV News Director Bill Shory disagreed with the terms did the setting begin to take a turn for the strange.
Carpenter: The stipulation was that he didn’t want TV cameras running because he felt like the new coach announcement should be a USC event.
Ford: Kiffin wanted to meet with the media first with electronic media off (no TV cameras) so he could explain his reasons and then he would do the TV interviews. From time to time we had done some limited structure news conferences during the (Phillip) Fulmer era. I relayed the format to the media gathered and there ensued a host of rebuttals and from that point on it was all downhill.
Bill Shory (WBIR-TV News Director. Today, WAVE-TV News Director in Louisville.)
There had been an ongoing thing with Bud about a "press conference" versus a "media opportunity." They weren’t letting us go live (from campus during a media opportunity), we would argue about it and then it would be over. I felt like we were missing an opportunity to make a stand. I had told (WBIR sportscasters) Steve Phillips and Kris Budden to let me know whenever this happened so that we could argue when it matters. We had a number of these situations. This one was big. I tapped Bud on the shoulder and asked to talk to him outside the media room. He said, "Whatever you have to say you can say to everyone." So that’s where it went. I wasn’t going to tell our photographer NOT to roll. We had this issue before, we needed to resolve it for a while, and now it was critically important.
Kris Budden (WBIR-TV Sports Anchor/Reporter. Today, NFL on FOX, CFB on Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports San Diego Padres sideline reporter.)
I was pretty shocked. It was a particularly awkward position for me because I’m trying to defend Bill Shory’s stance, but also not cause any more issues with the rest of the media. I wish I had spoken up and tried to explain it to them (print/radio) this way. "How upset would you be if was reversed, and Tennessee said TV was allowed to record the presser, but the writers and radio had to leave their recorders outside the door?"
John Wilkerson (Sports radio host on The Sports Animal. Today, same position.)
In my mind, it was classic Lane Kiffin. He wanted, as best he could, to say good things about Tennessee, so that somehow, Vol fans would still like him — and, at the same time, say "no video of the first part."
Carpenter: Bud Ford, John Painter and I had all of five minutes with (Kiffin) before the press conference started. In that meeting, we all told him he had to allow cameras. Ironically, when I walked in I was coming to tell Bud (Kiffin) would give in and let cameras roll but didn’t want live TV, which I thought was a good compromise. But by the time I got in, all hell had broken loose and most of this video had already happened. When Coach Kiffin saw the pandemonium going on, he backed out of Q&A and just wanted to give a brief statement. Had it not been so tense, I think he would have taken questions.
Ellis: "There was a palpable sense of frustration in the press conference room that night. Most were frustrated because this news was breaking so late at night. It’s also no secret that many among the Knoxville sports media are UT fans themselves, so I think there were a select few in the room who were generally annoyed with Kiffin’s departure for that reason. After all, Kiffin was supposed to be the savior who would lead UT out of the cloud of Phillip Fulmer’s departure. I distinctly remember one media member calling Kiffin "a snake" that night.
Ward: There were also some media members who were mad at Kiffin for leaving. His departure was going to hurt the Vols and they were upset about it. Those emotions were coming out as they disagreed with how to handle the restrictions of the press conference. As the situation escalated, it only looked uglier for both UT and the media. It’s incredible to watch each individual in that room while the disagreement is taking place. There’s a lot of shouting, which really becomes priceless toward the end right before Kiffin comes into the room.
Mark Packer (WVLT-TV Anchor. Today, same position.)
My feeling at the time was that we should let Kiffin come in and say what he had to say — all of us in the media playing by the same rules — then, we would turn on the cameras and recorders and nail him! Shory decided this was a great chance for him to jump up and stand for the journalistic rights of journalists everywhere! I disagreed with him on this one because as it turned out none of us got to ask Kiffin anything. He made a short statement and walked out like the chicken he was and still is today.
Basilio: Despite the way things are framed here, most media people pretend not to be fans yet they were pissed that night. Let’s be honest about it, nerves were frayed that night because no one could believe Kiffin would leave like that. I mean, who does that? And I think that was revealed in the way the bickering went among the media folks gathered there. Everybody seemed to be jacked up in an extra special way.
Wilkerson: The closer you get to deadlines, clear lines can develop quickly and the unity can begin to splinter somewhat rapidly. While there is a great spirit of cooperation that usually exists, in the end the closer individuals get to getting what they need, concern for others starts to wane.
Low: I remember vividly thinking what a circus this is, and thinking that if there was a fly on the wall watching this, they’d think what a bunch of boobs we were. I just rolled my eyes and thought, "Good grief how bad is this." And just as soon as you thought it would settle down, it started up again. It was the closest in my professional career to thinking I was in the middle of a pro wrestling event.
Russo: For me it was too antagonistic for a situation that was brought upon by a guy who really (didn’t) give good two licks about the university and the program he was walking out on. I remember thinking at the time that the protection UT was providing this guy was a little excessive. I felt like their role should have been to coordinate and assist and just let the coach sink or swim on his own.
Shory: What always struck me was the media culture there. You had the folks working for the Knoxville News-Sentinel who were aggressive about coverage. They had no issue (with what I did). Other local TV stations, for the most part, had no problem with my stand. Chris Low is one hell of a reporter. Brent Hubbs is aggressive and his guys are too. But there is a big chunk of hangers on in Knoxville sports media that write columns, work on websites, etc. I got the most resistance from that crowd.
Part IV: "We’re not going to let him leave."
As news of Kiffin’s resignation spread across the Tennessee campus, UT students began to arrive at the UT football complex.
Geist: I told a UT official that I was with the Sports Information Department and asked what I could do to help. I was told to make sure no students made it from the lobby of Neyland-Thompson Sports Center into the rest of the facility. I said, "Wait, I’m 5-9, 160. There are going to be tons of students. How am I going to stop them if they’re drunk and pissed?"
Shory: There was so much access to that building, particularly in the lobby. There were 40 students chanting in the lobby.
Ford: Adding to this mix was a gathering of students outside the building who wanted inside. UT Police were dispatched to try and restore some access issues that students wanted to breach to see what was to transpire. Chaos was already in place before Kiffin ever entered the room.
Hoover: I’m friends with some extremely die-hard Tennessee fans that were freshmen at the time, and while in the press conference I got texts that said, "We’re not going to let him leave." Johnny Majors Drive was absolutely packed for the length of the street, and the goal of the students was to block Kiffin in where the coach’s cars are parked.
Ramey: My friends and I watched the riots from the second story of Stokely (Athletic Center). We were threatened to be arrested for trespassing on private property.
DeVault: I was one of the first ones there, and shortly thereafter members of another fraternity rolled up in a pickup truck and had a mattress and a set of drawers in the back of it. They were loading things up to take to the dump when the news broke, and like me wanted to check out the student reaction. After about an hour of people slowly trickling in, a large group of students had surrounded the sports complex. People were screaming, yelling and cussing Kiffin in general, hoping he would come outside. At some point during the gathering, the fraternity guys I saw earlier unloaded their stuff into the street and set it on fire.
Pope: I got out of there. It was ugly. I thought they were gonna burn him at the stake. "Crucify that man" a student yelled on my way out. Personally I was in disbelief.
Hood: I wasn’t aware of the student reaction until I had returned to my dorm room. Once I was aware, I just looked off the third floor of Gibbs (Hall) and just watched it.
Basilio: The student uprising was under-covered in my mind. Looking back it was refreshing to think that UT students had this much passion over anything. Kudos to them!
Low: Nationally it was portrayed like the whole city was burning. But it was the students. Fans weren’t driving in from west Knoxville. But the students were raising a ruckus, acting the fool. Some of the students were reeking of alcohol. Some players were too.
Packer: We had an idea that there was frustration outside, but we were so consumed with Kiffin, Bud Ford, Bill Shory, me, other media that we had no idea about a burning bed.
Low: My defining memory is going back outside and seeing that there’s a mattress on fire. Max Parrott (Tennessee Football Asst. Equipment Manager) walks next to me and he has a fire extinguisher. Max looks at me, shakes his head, puts out the fire and walks back into the football complex. I still kid Max about it all these years later.
THEY JUST TEAR GASSED EVERY1!!!
— Renaldo SB Woolridge (@Swiperboy) January 13, 2010
Budden: The student’s reaction was certainly surprising and overblown. The guy got a new job at his dream school. I don’t know how burning mattresses in the street helps anything.
Ellis: One guy I spoke with — an older fellow who, for some reason, had his young daughter with him — told me Kiffin treated UT "like a harlot."
Ward: Another fascinating part of that night was the role of Twitter. It wasn’t quite as popular as it is now, so to see people commenting live while it was all going on was very interesting. Renaldo Woolridge, who was a sophomore on the basketball team at the time, was live-tweeting from the dorms while students were rioting in the streets. The tweet from Woolridge that stood out: "THEY JUST TEAR GASSED EVERY1!!!" I’m no PR genius, but having an athlete tweet that from campus can’t be good.
Hamilton: I flew to Nashville and then drove to Knoxville arriving about 3:30 a.m. I was informed when I landed about the evening’s events. I was obviously disappointed in the interaction with the media and understood at some level the students’ reactions.
Brice: I’m not aware of any real injuries and a mattress or two was burned. Not a huge deal. However, probably wise that Kiffin didn’t leave till around 4-4:30 a.m. and that his father Monte (former Tennessee defensive coordinator) never left the complex at all that night.
Part V: The Aftermath
When the dust settled, not only was the Vols recruiting class in shambles, but Tennessee football was as troubled as it had ever been in the 100-plus year history of the program. Players, fans, media and Tennessee’s athletic department itself started to get used to a new normal.
Ford: Hindsight is always 20/20. The best solution would have been to disregard Kiffin’s request and never deliver his message. The first problem I faced was the fact that I did not have as close a relationship with Kiffin as I had with all of the previous head coaches during my career. I was confident that I could express my opinion to these coaches at any time, but I was lacking that with Kiffin. Yes, I was involved with the day-to-day football, but Kiffin had so many off-the-field issues that Tiffany Carpenter was his media person of choice from the public relations standpoint. I did not feel that I was in a position to tell Kiffin anything and that was my shortfall. I wished I had told Kiffin all is setup and ready and whatever happened, happened. He wasn’t Tennessee’s coach anymore and I should have been protecting my school and not Kiffin.
Also, I had never seen a coach who was leaving a school conduct a press conference at that school. Press conferences were always at the site of the school he was moving to. Thus, I could have advised Kiffin to just leave and forget the press conference. Folks who want to talk with you can fly to Los Angeles. What we needed was some sound judgment but it wasn’t to be found among the chaos that night. I am not taking all the blame because there was plenty to go around (Kiffin, UT and the media), but a perfect storm was underway and everybody was caught up in the wave.
Shory: Bud called me a week later. He said the biggest mistake was that when Lane said that he wanted those terms about cameras that he should have said, "Ok, you go tell them (the media)." I felt bad for Bud — for defending the guy that shafted UT. We buried the hatchet. I called Bud about a number of stories after that.
Carpenter: Bud and I have talked about this before. (Looking back) I’m not sure we would have coordinated the opportunity for him (Kiffin). At the time, we felt like we were doing our media a service giving them a chance to talk to the coach before he left. That never happens! In hindsight, we probably should have just said that’s not a good idea and let it go. While Bud and I may not have agreed all the time, I always had a respect for Bud and his opinions, and I knew he was doing what he truly felt was best for the university. I don’t know that this situation would have been handled differently by anyone else. It was very tense, and Bud hadn’t had time to really talk to Coach Kiffin.
Low: I’ve known Bud since the late 1980’s. With everything I know about him, in that situation he was trying to protect UT. There’s no doubt that’s what he was trying to do.
Packer: What a lot of people don’t know is that my disagreement with Shory spilled out into the streets afterwards. I thanked him "very sarcastically" for screwing everyone! Local TV stations, newspapers, internet sites, radio stations, national media — he screwed everyone that night and no one got any kind of explanation (from Kiffin), but Shory got an award!
Shory received the "Ethics in Journalism Award" from the Society of Professional Journalists in 2010 for his actions that evening.
Shory: In the end we got what we were after. Everyone got the same access. I think there are still some people that believe that Lane would have gotten in the room and poured his heart out, letting us all know the mystery of why he left. That’s naive. But I got hundreds of emails after that night and feedback was 99.9 percent positive. This had an impact across the country. I got a call from a station in Boise, Idaho, saying that Boise State wanted to limit access and then backed off.
Ellis: (Looking back) I would have backed Shory’s stance against Kiffin’s demands. At the time I was as frustrated as anyone in that room, though I didn’t say much since I was just a student reporter. But there’s something to be said for standing your ground for equal access, and that’s what Shory was doing.
Gipson: I have to admire the television guys who, despite some really annoying and foolish print/radio people’s heckling, stood their ground on behalf of their principles and respect for their job.
Geist: I remember seeing (Vols offensive lineman) Ja’Wuan James just walking around shaking his head in shock that this was happening. Ja’Wuan had his life forever altered on that day. Those students didn’t. Ja’Wuan had a right to be more pissed than any of the students did.
Ellis: When I moved through the crowd of students outside the practice facility that night, I saw Bryce Brown standing alone watching the group of people rioting. UT fans will remember Brown as the gem of Kiffin’s only recruiting class, a running back who was the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2009 and the highest-rated prospect to ever sign with UT. I walked over to him, pulled out my recorder and said, "What’s your take on all this?" Brown just kept watching the crowd with a blank stare and said, "Nothing, man." I kept prodding, but I could tell he wasn’t in the mood. Not surprisingly, Brown would later transfer from UT to Kansas State after the Vols hired Derek Dooley.
Hoover: The reason that students were so upset that Kiffin left is because he played to what students wanted to hear and they loved him. So when Kiffin made controversial comments, called out Urban Meyer or allowed the Vols to wear black jerseys against South Carolina, a lot of older Tennessee fans were turned off. Not the students. They loved every move Kiffin made, and saw that his vision was going to bring Tennessee back. That’s why they were so upset and made the demonstration that they did. There was anger in the crowd but there was also a lot of hopelessness. Knowing that getting a home run hire was largely out of the question at that time of year, and knowing that Kiffin’s recruiting class was probably lost weighed heavily on people’s minds that night.
Thompson: (Kiffin) did talk a lot of stuff about other programs but we loved it — made it feel like he trusted us as players to perform great and we played hard for him and trusted him. Looking back, that coaching staff was great. Some of the best times I had at Tennessee were in the Lane Kiffin era. I wish they never left because (Derek) Dooley was a joke — the most arrogant and selfish person I know. I’m so glad Butch Jones is there now — great guy and coach.
Hood: Kiffin was always really good to us players. I do believe that if it was any other school, he would have stayed. He loved being here and loved the team we had. But who wouldn’t take the opportunity to coach the team you grew up loving? I know I’d leave any school for the chance to coach UT. As bad as that night hurt and the next three years hurt, it has finally led to where we are now. I know we get snow blinded by our current situations, but all of that needed to happen to get us to where are now. We now have Coach Jones, who I believe is the best coach in the nation. No other coach has his passion and his enthusiasm for the sport.
Martin: The (Kiffin) coaching staff was pretty fun to be honest. I never worked so hard and had so much fun doing it. Looking back at him leaving, I’m still bitter about it but as an adult I can see the logic in taking a "dream" job.
Carpenter: (My day ended) about 2 a.m. My car was parked in front of a smoldering mattress, so I went back into the office to start working on a new coach announcement plan.
Russo: The next day happened to be Wednesday, January 13. A hump day the UT football program is still seemingly working hard to get over. This one man’s abrupt decision sent Tennessee football into a tailspin. A downward spiral which might have been avoided had that night never taken place.
Lane Kiffin finally walked out of the UT football complex at approximately 4 a.m.
Brice: Kiffin had a police escort, but I knew the officer and walked straight up to him. Still, the cop looked at Lane and Lane said, "No, it’s fine. I’ll talk to him." I approached and he said, "I won’t answer any questions I don’t want to." I just said, "Well, that’s your right."
Kiffin’s quotes via Volquest.com – January 13, 2010
This sort of story doesn’t break in college towns where things are usually more serene.
Kiffin: I had a decision to make, and it wasn’t easy. It was very difficult. But this was the best decision for my family. This wasn’t about money. It was just a decision, it was probably the one place — being in California for 10 or 11 years, all three kids being born there. How much my wife enjoyed it there. The memories that we have there. It’s probably the best job in America. And I left a great job. I left probably one of the top-five jobs in America to go to the best job in America. But we have left the Tennessee football program in a much better place than it was 14 months ago. Much more national attention. Much more recruiting attention. And a much better roster.
Low: Lane was not ready for how engulfing the Tennessee job was. X’s and O’s, recruiting, getting his team ready — he did that well. But when you are the Vols head coach, you are one of the most recognizable people in the state. For his sake, the way it went down, him leaving abruptly … the way it happened was the best thing for both him and UT. If he stays another year there would have been a major (NCAA) deal off the field. It would have been Bruce Pearl-esque. Whether it would have been his doing or not … because of the way things were going it was going to blow up … it would have been a magnificent explosion.
Shory: The tone was different after that night. Maybe that was first time anyone stood their ground with the athletic department. It was also the first in a long string of things that went bad at UT. Maybe firing Phil (Fulmer) was first, and then all the stuff after that. This was before Pearl’s NCAA troubles, before Derek Dooley’s hiring, before we knew all the damage Kiffin did while he was there. Three years after that night if someone made that stand no one would have batted an eye. But it was different back in 2010.
Ford: I had a wonderful career at UT with a lot of high moments. There have been some low ones also. The death of Haywood Harris in June of 2010, Peyton Manning not winning the Heisman, the YouTube video of the Kiffin (media opportunity) and my untimely departure from UT by (Athletic Director Dave) Hart after 45 1/2 years. Other than these few times I have always felt that I served my university well and was proud of the way my staff worked on behalf of the media who covered Tennessee athletics.
Basilio: It was a tense night. It was the unexpected. It was the type of thing that happens with more regularity in bigger markets. This sort of story doesn’t break in college towns where things are usually more serene. This was an extraordinary night.
As for me: I was a Sports Anchor/Reporter in Knoxville but wasn’t working that particular evening. I was at home helping with my 3-year-old daughter, who had pneumonia. She and I were watching cartoons (might have been Dora the Explorer) when the phone rang. It was my mother-in-law calling to tell me that she just saw on TV that Lane Kiffin resigned. Yes, that’s how I learned about the biggest sports news in Knoxville in years — from my mother-in-law. I watched things unfold on TV and social media like most everyone else.
I made a request with the University of Alabama to speak with Lane Kiffin, but that request was denied, per Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s policy concerning the media and Alabama assistant coaches.