Lane's Tenure At Tennessee

Looking back a decade later.

Jim Rome
September 19, 2019 - 10:32 am
Lane Kiffin

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I would like to dedicate this next take to one Corey Zickefoose, the greatest and most loyal fan anyone could ever find. 

Tennessee is playing Florida on Saturday and there was a time where that was one of the best rivalries in college football.

I hate to say it, Zickefooose, but what I’m about to say is going to hurt me more than it hurts you. Because believe it or not, there was a time when Tennessee was one of the best teams in college football. And one of the best programs in college football. 

I know, it’s hard to believe when they opened up the season with losses to Georgia State and BYU at home. Face it, when was the last time Tennessee really got any national run?  It was the kind of run no one wants: run for Butch Jones and his Turnover Trashcan.  That’s it.

And if you think that’s hard to believe, try this on for size:  remember when Lane Kiffin coached at Tennessee.  Remember, his one season there? That was an entire DECADE AGO. That’s right, ten years!

And the fact is, Tennessee hasn’t mattered since Kiff was there. ESPN has a piece looking back on that season and let me tell you, it was better than I remembered.  I remember it being good. But not THIS good.

Let’s start with the story of when Tennessee was going to take on #1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The night before the game, the Vols had a meeting at their hotel. And I’m just going to read this next line straight from the piece:

“Ed Orgeron wanted everyone's attention. To get the Vols pumped up, the fiery defensive line coach took an overhead projector and hurled it into a wall, where it shattered into pieces.”

Hell. Yes. Edward James Orgeron Junior, if you need him. That is how you get everyone’s attention – lob an overhead projector against the wall. 

That is better than Blake coming into the sales office in Glengarry Glen Ross. Do I have your attention?

But Coach O was just the opening act. The big show was about to come. And that was a speech from Lane Kiffin that a former player said went like this:  

"He gets up there and says, 'I’ve already called back to the University of Tennessee and told them that we're going to stay an extra night after we beat Alabama tomorrow, and we're going to go eat some of those Dreamland ribs and hang out at their bars.'" 

And it gets better. Because according to the story, the whole place went wild. How wild? 

Defensive lineman Wes Brown said "I believe Monte even picked up a chair and threw it. Whatever we could get our hands on, we were throwing. It was total chaos."

That is 69-year old Monte Kiffin, father of Lane and chucker of chairs. And that is awesome. Coach O smashing a projector, Monte throwing chairs, and the players saying “whatever we could get our hands on, we were throwing.”

And that was just a continuation of what started when Lane said at his introductory press conference that everyone would be "singing Rocky Top all night long after we beat Florida next year. It's going to be a blast, so get ready."

Then there was the run he took at Urban Meyer after getting Nu’keese Richard, a recruit Meyer had wanted: "I love the fact that Urban had to cheat and still didn't get [Richardson]."

Who cares that Meyer apparently didn’t cheat in the recruitment of Richardson. That didn’t matter. None of it did. It was the epitome of smoke weed talk bleep like Lane Kiffin.

I’ll get back to the Lane Kiffin-Lil Wayne connection in a second. Because in the meantime, Lane was talking bleep. And it was getting attention. 

As Chris Walker, another player said, "I remember thinking, 'Either this dude can coach ball, or we're going to get our heads beat in. But that was the beauty of playing for Lane. He had a swag about him that was real and didn't mind stepping on toes."

He wasn’t stepping on toes, he was stomping on them. And it was awesome. Well, not for everyone.

Because at one point, Tennessee booster Jimmy Haslam took Monte Kiffin aside and according to Monte, "He said, 'Listen, I like Lane a lot. I really do and think he's going to do big things here, but could you get him to zip it up a little bit?'" 

I’m not sure what Monte said, but what he should have said was; hey zillionaire…I’m sure there’s a building or four named after you here. And you probably are the guy who signs both my and my son’s check. But no…no, I can’t tell the kid to zip it up a little bit.  Because one, it wouldn’t do any good: smoke weed, talk bleep like Lane Kiffin. And two, this guy and his mouth are the best thing to happen to Tennessee football in a long time: so if you’ll excuse me, super rich booster, I have to go throw some chairs. Gotta bounce, J!

Lane, meanwhile, wants to make sure we all know there was a method to his madness.  And a purpose behind everything: "A lot of the things I was saying, that's straight out of Steve Spurrier 101, and people loved Coach Spurrier, taking a shot at someone else and making a joke. That's who I grew up idolizing, Steve Spurrier. That's why I wear a visor and why I run a wide-open offense. I grew up wanting to be Steve Spurrier. And that's why it was so cool to beat him that season."

ESPN contact Spurrier about that love from Kiffin and the Head Ball Coach responded as only the HBC can: "Oh, no, don't blame it on me. I wasn't doing and saying some of the stuff he was. I know they clobbered us pretty good that year in that night game. How many years was he there -- one or two?"

When told just one, Spurrier said, "Seemed longer. I guess a lot happened in that one year."

The thing is, after the projector smashing and chair throwing, the Vols damn near beat Alabama, losing on a blocked field goal as time expired. But that didn’t change Kiffin. As he went to shake Nick Saban’s hand, he said "Hey, good game, but that's the last time it's going to happen."

A decade later, Kiffin shrugs. "It was the last time it happened. It's the last time he beat me, so I guess that part is true. Like a dumbass, I also didn't know I was going to need a job from him in five years, either."

There is too much from that one year to keep recapping it. Because then it ended when USC called and offered him their head coaching job. That did not go down well in Knoxville.

Quoting from the article: with students and fans burning mattresses and shouting obscenities directed at Kiffin while he barricaded himself in his office at the complex before he could finally be escorted by police to his home in Knoxville sometime around 4 a.m.

What started as talking junk and smashing projectors ended with burning mattresses and shouted obscenities.

As great as that was at the time, it’s even better looking back. So let me say this right here and right now: as wild and insane as that was, Tennessee’s never had it better since. 

I’m not looking to get anyone fired, but when that job opens up again, the school better make one call and one call only. 

It’s time to forgive and forget. Bring him back. Bring back Lane. Bring back the smashed projectors. Bring back the surprise black jerseys. Monte throwing chairs. Bring it all back. 

Lane is more reflective now. He’s a better coach now. And Tennessee needs him now more than ever. Let’s do this. Every day athletic director has a short list of coaches he’d considering hiring in the event their coach leaves or gets fired. I’m sure Phil Fulmer has his. But that list better have one name on it. And just one name. LANE. MONTE.  KIFFIN.