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Rocky Times On Rocky Top

I am writing this post to officially bring closure to myself over the events of the past 14 months. I hope I am able to help some of my Tennessee brethren find closure as well. This post will (hopefully) signal the end of any commentary until fall, excepting comment on the soon-expected news on a new hire.

I hate to say I called this one.

I really do. The cliche about my blood is true, it really does run Tennessee orange. Few people are disturbed about this week’s events more than those of orange blood. For that matter, even fewer are as disturbed about the last 14 months than I am. My friend Ryan wrote a fabulous post here that accurately describes everything I’ve said publicly and privately. I said on this blog back in August:

This off season at The University of Tennessee has been the most tumultuous in recent memory. Only the equally disastrous 2005 season (where the Vols went 5-6 under eerily similar circumstances) can compare. This time around, it ended with the terrible ouster of beloved coach Philip Fulmer and the hiring of firebrand Lane Kiffin. Fulmer’s choice of Dave Clawson to replace the great David Cutcliffe as offensive coordinator was, unquestionably, the wrong move, and that is what cost him his job. The off season, as I’ve just said, was a study in patience.

I make no bones about it – I don’t like Lane Kiffin. I’ve Tweeted and Facebooked derisive monikers as “Lame Kiddin” or “Lame Kiffin” from Day 1. I greatly fear we have hired another Bill Callahan (for those who don’t know what I mean, look at how he utterly destroyed Nebraska football and you’ll know then what I mean).

I repeatedly resisted invitations to “get on the Lane Train.” I refused to drink the Kool-Aid. I urged everyone around me to do the same. We threw out a man with class and character for this? The prom king? The guy who has absolutely no self-confidence whatsoever that he has to go around slapping everyone else in the face? I was skeptical.

Then he came to campus and actually started coaching. Everyone knows the first half of the season was horrible. It was as if the lingering effects of Dave Clawson couldn’t be shaken off. Then came the Georgia game, which I attended with my dad. Shock and awe! Tennessee football! Hope sprung.

The rest of the season was a study in just how improved Kiffin had made this team. The Vol Nation everywhere was beginning to feel excited again. Recruits were knocking down our doors. I actually spent a few minutes trying to see if I could budget Florida tickets for next fall. Kiffin seemed to be growing up a bit, even as questions mounted about his practices. I had hope that, even if I could never drink the Kool-Aid, I could at least enjoy watching it get made.

And then Lame Kiffin yanked the rug out from under us. After one season, promising to rebuild our proud tradition, Kiffin reneged on every commitment he made and left for, of all places USC. An ancient Tennessee nemesis. Look it up in the record books if you don’t believe me.

Please don’t misunderstand me — I do understand his reasons for leaving. It’s his dream job, it’s the only place he would have left for, yeah yeah yeah. I get that. But let me answer a question posed by a long-time friend from back home: if it was MY dream job, and I’d only been in my current post for a year, I most certainly would NOT have left.

Unlike Kiffin, my word actually means something to me. My integrity is something that I actually value. If I were to promise a church that I would help them to rebuild after several years of stagnating, I know without a doubt that I’m promising to be at that church for several years. At least a decade. And to dishonor that commitment by leaving after 14 months, to sully my name in this way, is sin. Scripture says that “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold (Proverbs 22:1).”

And that Scripture is reflected in the fallout from Kiffin’s betrayal. Yes, there is no other word to accurately describe it. Lame Kiffin is now the most hated man in sports outside of the USC family. If it’s possible, he may even be more hated than the Yankees. And that’s saying a lot. Current and former players have nothing good to say about him. The seniors from the 2009-10 team have talked about how the coaches never embraced Tennessee traditions, but instead tried to change them for some, ahem, very strange shenanigans. There is an undercurrent of anger among players, alumni, and fans.

I had a bad feeling about this from the start. One of my first thoughts after he was hired was that Kiffin would use Tennessee to get another plum job. How long would it be until he got hired at, say, Notre Dame? Michigan? Florida State? Somewhere else? I held out hope he would stay long enough to get our program back on track. Sadly, 14 months was my answer.

What Can Tennessee Do Now?
The athletic director, Mike Hamilton, immediately began a coaching search with a goal of having someone in place today (Friday). The names bandied about by many, including ESPN, which now seeks to make the news instead of reporting it, were good ones: Will Muschamp, Gary Petersen, Dan Mullen, etc. etc. As of this writing all had said “No” and no coach had been hired.

But if Mike Hamilton wants to save his job, he needs to make one hire and one hire only: David Cutcliffe. He is a Tennessee man, knows the SEC, is probably one of the top quarterback coaches in the nation, and recruits would want to play in his offense. Do not go outside the Tennessee family for this hire, Mike Hamilton, unless you have an absolute slam dunk such as someone like Bobby Stoops would be.

Further, I would heavily encourage the university to start looking for a new athletic director. The only thing Hamilton can point to as a real accomplishment is the hiring of Bruce Pearl. That hire alone saved Tennessee basketball for years to come. But let’s not pretend. Football is the driving force in Tennessee. You mess with football, you get the business end of that musket that gets carried around at the games. Mike Hamilton messed with football. Unless the new coach actually does what Kiffin promised to do, his days are numbered.

Fans, we can pull up our pants and get busy supporting the program even more fervently than before. Tennessee needs us now more than ever. The new coach is going to need a groundswell of support from us to keep recruits coming. We’re going to need it even more to beat Florida and Alabama. We need to put the past 14 months behind us and become a Tennessee family again. We’ve got to wish, with all our hearts, that we were on old Rocky Top. Only then will Tennessee be able to repair the damage.

Update: As I closed this post, word came out that David Cutcliffe may be about to be announced as the next head coach. I can only hope and pray this is true!

Categories: Sports
  1. January 29, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    searched wordpress to see if anyone had similar hobbies like UTK football. like your site a lot. just started mine this month. First blog ever!
    Read your article on Kiffin. Following the UGA game I was slamming the Kiffin Koolaid too, have to admit. Dooley will bring us out of this. Lets circle the wagons and stay calm. Come over and see my site sometime.

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