Vol Nation wanted to win so badly that we were blinded to the obvious signs of Kiffin's jackassery. We disregarded his sophomoric trash talking and the rash of recruiting violations, even as he was turning us into a national embarrassment. Now that he's gone, it's like we're waking up from a self-induced trance. Why'd we ever hire this mouthy punk in the first place?
Here's what a class act Kiffin is: When he quit and left, he never even bothered to call his brother-in-law, David Reaves, the Vols' quarterbacks coach. Reaves found out sitting in a restaurant watching television. Kiffin didn't tell linebackers' coach Lance Thompson, either. Thompson left Alabama to come to Tennessee to coach under Lane's father, Monte, who left for USC with his son. Thompson didn't rate a courtesy call from his coach. That's how the Kiffins repaid him.
"Hey, you know, if that's how people want to conduct their business, fine," Thompson says.
Once in Los Angeles, Kiffin publicly vowed that USC wouldn't go after Tennessee recruits unless they contacted the Trojans staff first. It was big of him to make that promise since it's illegal for one college to contact another school's players without that school's permission. But even as Kiffin was speaking, his main recruiter--the fast-talking hustler Ed Orgeron--was doing exactly that. Outrageously, Orgeron was holding speaker-phone conference calls with roomfuls of these kids. He offered scholarships to USC and tips on how to circumvent NCAA transfer rules. Don't go to spring semester classes at Tennessee as you have planned, he told these student-athletes, because if you do you can't transfer to USC without sitting out a year. Wonder why he imagines anyone should trust him?
Tennessee quarterback recruit Tyler Bray was one of Orgeron's targets. "He didn't think it was very cool," Tyler's father Jeff says, describing his son's reaction to the pitch. "You're in the middle of all this turmoil and they're trying to pull players. ... My understanding was a lot of [the players] got very angry and voiced their anger on the phone."
At his introductory press conference, a reporter jokingly asked new Tennessee coach Derek Dooley whether he would phone USC recruits and tell them not to go to class. Dooley wouldn't rise to the bait:
"If you're going to look for sound bites and things from me that are going to attack other programs and disparage people, that's just not how I am," he said.Yes, mature adults are back in charge at the University of Tennessee. That's good because there's damage to repair.
Everybody's belittling the choice of Dooley, and there are good reasons to be upset with AD Mike Hamilton. But maybe this hire isn't one of them. OK, Dooley went 17-20 in three seasons at a small school in the WAC. At least he might have a little integrity.