Lane Kiffin might not have been able to entice Tennessee into a made-for-tv grudge match to kick off the 2011 football season, but that may not be his only opportunity to renew acquaintances with Vols fans in person.
USC basketball coach Kevin O'Neill half-jokingly suggested he may may bring Kiffin with him to Knoxville when the Trojans and Vols meet in hoops this December. Kiffin hasn't been back to Tennessee since hundreds of students gathered on campus the night he announced he was leaving for USC and burned mattresses and T-shirts with his face on them while chanting obscenities at him.
"I'm thinking I'm going to bring Lane," O'Neill told the Knoxville News-Sentinel on Wednesday. "We'd have to wear Kevlar instead of suits if we did. But at least we can stay at his house in Knoxville. It's never going to sell; might as well turn it into a hotel."
Bringing Kiffin to Rocky Top might be the equivalent of sending a BP executive to a Greenpeace summit, but the atmosphere in Knoxville will still be electric this December even without him. In addition to the unusual football rivalry that has developed between the two schools, Tennessee also will be seeking revenge for the 77-55 beatdown USC delivered last season in Los Angeles.
If anyone can understand the dilemma Kiffin faced this past winter, it's O'Neill, whose strained relationship with Tennessee athletic director Doug Dickey led him to leave for Northwestern in 1997. Dickey wouldn't clear a recruit to play that the NCAA had deemed eligible, creating a rift between O'Neill and the school.
O'Neill acknowledges now he acted immaturely, yet he defends Kiffin for the way he left Knoxville. Still if Tennessee fans won't forgive Kiffin, O'Neill sees it as an advantage for when the Trojans visit in December.
"That should keep the heat off of me," O'Neill said.