Looking Back at Lane Kiffin’s Brief Tenure at Tennessee

Cory Sanning

He’s back in the SEC.

Lane Kiffin is quite infamous in Knoxville. If you ask four Tennessee fans how they feel about him, three of them would likely give you the same answer.

And for good reason.

It didn’t start off that way, though. In fact, when Kiffin arrived, there was nothing but sheer optimism surrounding the Vols. Not only did Kiffin bring a swagger and confidence with him, he brought a staff.

Soon after Kiffin was hired, he announced that his staff would include some familiar names: his father, Monte Kiffin, would serve as defensive coordinator. Longtime SEC mainstay Ed Orgeron would coach the defensive line and Jim Chaney would lead the offense.

There may not be a deeper coaching staff assembled in SEC football history, and heading into the 2009 season, it appeared that the Vols wouldn’t suffer too much of a drop-off following the end of the Phillip Fulmer era a year prior.

UT assembled the eighth-ranked recruiting class that offseason, a group that included two five-stars in running back Bryce Brown and defensive back Janzen Jackson.

The class also included eight four-star recruits, including running back/kick returner David Oku, who would become a familiar face for Vols fans over the next four years.

Right from the start, Kiffin made it clear that he would not sit back in Knoxville and remain quiet.

Everybody remembers his infamous dig at Nick Saban. Everybody remembers his boisterous comments prior to UT’s matchups against Alabama and South Carolina on Halloween. And of course, there were the black jerseys.

“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,'" Kiffin said to the players at a team meeting.

The Vols would lose three of their opening five games, but were able to rally to finish the season with a 7-5 record, earning them a date with 12th-ranked Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

While that game would go on to be a 37-14 blowout in favor of the Hokies, Tennessee showed promise in year one under Kiffin, which had many fans holding plenty of optimism heading into the offseason.

Once January came around, that optimism quickly turned into surprise, anger and uncertainty.

Kiffin, who’s dream job opened up after Pete Carroll left USC for the Seattle Seahawks job, couldn’t turn down the Trojans’ offer. During an SEC head coaches meeting in Orlando, he was formally offered the job and quickly accepted.

The Vols would find out like any other sports fan when the news broke on ESPN.

When Kiffin returned to Knoxville, the campus at UT was a madhouse. Students and fans burned mattresses outside of the Anderson Training Center and shouted obscenities. He would practically barricade himself in his office following his concluding press conference for the Tennessee media.

Kiffin eventually snuck out of the facility at 4 a.m. with the help of a police escort. Just like that, his career in Knoxville was over seemingly as fast as it had started.

His USC career would not play out as he had planned, with the Trojans logging a 28-15 record during his tenure. Kiffin would eventually be fired on Sept. 28, 2013, just hours following a 62-41 loss to Arizona State.

He would be informed of that decision minutes after landing at the airport later that night.

While he would not change anything about his decision to leave, Kiffin is thankful for the lessons and experiences in his lone season in Knoxville.

"A lot of the stories don't work out well because you get too much too fast. I know that happened to me because you start listening to everybody telling you how great you are and that you're the youngest this or that, especially when you get to a place as special as Tennessee,” Kiffin said to ESPN. "But I'm a lot better -- and not just as a football coach -- for everything that I experienced there."