January 20, 2009
These things are ephemeral, but my gauge of public opinion on Lane Kiffin's hiring at Tennessee is along the lines of, "Bizarre." He's too young, his only track record as a head coach is a rocky, losing stint in Oakland, he gives his kids self-serving names, etc. By SEC standards, Tennessee went way out on a limb for this guy.
Clearly, though, UT is committed to fortifying that limb, as its final push to fill out Kiffin's coaching staff proved late last week. Consider that at the start of last season, the most expensive assistant coach in the country was Florida State's offensive coordinator/coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher, at a base salary of $600,000. Tennessee not only nearly doubled that for Kiffin's grizzled dad, Monte, to come on as defensive coordinator (he'll make a little more than $1 million, half his salary with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and besting Will Muschamp's bank-breaking $900,000 haul at Texas), but also topped it for Ed Orgeron's noted recruiting prowess (Coach O will bring in $650,000 as recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach). Last week, they went for broke to lure Alabama's ace recruiter, Lance Thompson, for $400,000 -- as an outside linebackers coach who'll play second fiddle to Orgeron on the recruiting trail. That's well over $2 million for three assistants, more than most schools -- even SEC schools -- allocate for their entire staff of assistants.
So if Kiffin's resumé didn't capture the conference's imagination, the money and accompanying names certainly will, as Ray Melick proved Monday with a very snippy assessment in the Birmingham News. Melick don't take too kindly to Lane's impertinent "crowing" about his high-powered new recruiting army:
"With the staff now complete," Kiffin said, "not only do we have the best recruiters in the SEC but some of the best in the country. To be able to take South Carolina's recruiting coordinator, Mississippi State's recruiting coordinator, Alabama's best recruiter and Auburn's best recruiter over the past 10 years was a great accomplishment for us. ..."
If Kiffin is starting to sound like that spoiled child gloating over getting everything he wanted, well, can you blame him?
He's got Daddy luring coaches with his reputation and Big Mike [athletic director Mike Hamilton] writing the checks to foot the considerable bill. You halfway expect Kiffin to show up next summer at SEC Media Day and proclaim: "My dad can whip your dad."
Oh, so very catty, but Tennessee is giving the Kiffins every opportunity to do just that: With the money and accompanying influx of talent behind him (first on the staff; soon, no doubt, on the field), it seems Lane will have the deep-pocketed institutional firepower to whip anyone -- and no excuses if he doesn't. When UT decided to go mercenary to keep pace with the rest of the league, it went all in.