Youthful new mentor at UT already a lifer on gridiron
Posted: Tuesday, December 2, 2008 5:47 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Even though Tennessee’s new coach is the youngest one leading a major program, Lane Kiffin has been around football for almost all of his 33 years.
The former coach of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and son of long-time NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, is five months younger than the previous youngest coach in the Bowl Subdivision, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald.
“During our process, Lane Kiffin stood out,” athletic director Mike Hamilton said. “He has great football bloodlines and has been part of a strong football tradition since birth.”
Kiffin remembers being surrounded as a child by chalkboards scrawled with defensive plays and spending weekends in pregame meetings with his dad’s teams.
“The experience has been unbelievable and then to combine that with still being young enough to be able to relate to recruits and be able to manage them and handle them, I think is very valuable,” Kiffin said Monday when he was introduced at Tennessee.
He’s the Volunteers’ 21st coach but only the third in the last 32 years.
His selection came after “the first national search for a football coach in University of Tennessee history,” Hamilton said.
He took over the Volunteers two days after Phillip Fulmer’s 17-season tenure ended with a win over Kentucky and has a six-year contract worth $2 million in 2009 with the chance for bonuses.
“I’m extremely honored to follow him,” Kiffin said. “I’m not trying to be him. All I’m trying to do is carry on some of the things he’s done.”
Kiffin was the youngest coach in the NFL’s modern history when hired to lead the Oakland Raiders in January 2007 at age 31 after spending two seasons as Southern California’s recruiting and offensive coordinator.
It’s not the first time Tennessee has hired a youthful coach — Fulmer had no previous head coaching experience and the Vols’ revered Gen. Robert Neyland was 33 when he was hired.
Both of those hires worked out extremely well for the University of Tennessee.
Kiffin’s success with recruiting during a six-year stint at Southern California under the tutelage of Pete Carroll was a huge draw for Hamilton.
One criticism of Fulmer was that the quality of his recruiting classes in recent years had been inconsistent.
Before he announced on Nov. 3 that he was being pushed out, Fulmer was building a class that was ranked at the time in the top 10.
Since then several top recruits decommitted or said they planned to look at other colleges before signing with the Volunteers.
Kiffin began contacting recruits on Sunday, as soon as he was cleared by the NCAA to do so.
He said he was planning to travel to Memphis on Monday afternoon for a trip to talk with the No. 1 recruit of the class, presumably Harding Academy’s Marlon Brown, a wide receiver.
He said he planned to recruit nationally, much as he did at USC, and wanted to “put a fence around the state of Tennessee” to keep recruits from going elsewhere.
Those recruits who do make it to campus will be given a chance to play immediately, and any former starters will have to compete to earn their jobs back.
Kiffin first met with players on Sunday night — a day removed from Fulmer’s emotional departure from the team following a 28-10 victory over SEC rival Kentucky.
“Coming away he left a really good first impression on me. I’m really excited and I think a lot of other guys are really excited,” said sophomore tight end Luke Stocker, a starter this season. “It’s going to do nothing but make me better personally and make our team better.”
To help with recruiting, Kiffin has hired his brother-in-law, David Reaves, who just resigned his job as South Carolina quarterbacks coach.
Reaves had been the recruiting coordinator there since 2006, and Kiffin believes his ties to the Southeastern Conference are necessary.
Kiffin also has retained — at least temporarily — wide receivers coach Latrell Scott, running backs coach Stan Drayton, offensive line coach Greg Adkins and tight ends coach Jason Michael to help with recruitment.
He said he will decide later whether they will be asked to stay.
All other assistant coaches, including longtime defensive coordinator John Chavis and first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson, were not retained.
“There’s a direction on part of our staff, some of the positions where I know where we’re going to go,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that got handled with class. The last thing I wanted to do was keep those guys around knowing where I was going to go.”
What Kiffin wouldn’t say was whether he will hire his father to handle defensive responsibilities for the Vols.
Monte Kiffin called those reports mere speculation on Sunday.
Kiffin credited Raiders owner Al Davis, who fired him for what Davis said was insubordination, for giving him his first shot as a head coach.
He said learning to “deal with a completely dysfunctional franchise” was valuable.
“You can’t go to school and learn crisis management like going there,” he said.
After moving 17 times in his lifetime, mostly thanks to his father’s job, Kiffin said he hopes to remain at Tennessee for a long time and has no plans to return to the NFL.
He also assured Tennessee fans of what may be their greatest hope from a new coach: a win over the Florida Gators, who own a four-game winning streak over the Vols.
“Singing “Rocky Top” all night long after we beat Florida next year, it’s going to be a blast,” Kiffin said with a smile. “That line was Mike’s idea, by the way, all right, Urban?”