July 26, 2010
The Nashville Tennesseean is reporting that the Tennessee Titans are suing USC head coach Lane Kiffin and the USC football program for "maliciously" interfering with the contract of running backs coach Kennedy Pola. Tennessee Football Inc., the company that owns the Titans, filed the lawsuit Monday in Davidson County Chancery Court against both the university and Kiffin.
The Tennessean also first reported that Kiffin "stole" Pola to be USC's new offensive coordinator, which is not a problem in and of itself. After all, Titans head coach Jeff Fisher is a USC alum, and he took offensive coordinator Norm Chow from the Trojans after the 2004 season to do the same job for his team. As long as a coaching transfer isn't a lateral move, it's standard practice for the old team to be happy for the coach as he moves on to the new team. However, it's also good form to ask the old team before said poaching commences. And according to Fisher, that didn't happen.
"I am very disappointed in Lane Kiffin's approach to this,'' Fisher said [on Saturday]. "Typically speaking, when coaches are interested in hiring or discussing potential employment from coaches on respective staffs there is a courtesy call made from the head coach or athletic director indicating there is an interest in talking to the assistant.
"So I am very disappointed in the lack of professionalism on behalf of Lane, to call me and leave me a voice mail after Kennedy had informed me he had taken the job. It is just a lack of professionalism."
Of course, Tenneesseans know all about Kiffin's lack of professionalism — after a whopping 14 months as the Vols' head coach, Kiffin abruptly quit for the USC job after Pete Carroll's departure for the Seattle Seahawks. During his time at Tennessee, Kiffin managed to accuse the Florida and Georgia programs of recruiting violations, insinuate that a Florida high school would go out of its way to impede one recruit's ability to sign with his program, and commited several violations of his own along the way. Since taking the USC job in January, Kiffin invited further controversy by getting a verbal commitment from a 13-year-old quarterback.
And it came out after the fact that the reason Kiffin may have left a message on Fisher's voicemail instead of speaking with him directly is that the Minnesota Vikings had already given Eric Bienemy, their running backs coach, a promotion and pay raise to prevent Kiffin from stealing him away. The Minnesota Star Tribune reported that USC had offered the offensive coordinator's job to Bienemy, so Pola wasn't even Kiffin's first choice. Thus, afraid that Fisher might do the same thing with Pola, Lane Kiffin subverted the system to get what he wanted. And that's where the Titans might have a case.
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Pola is another USC alum — he played and coached for the Trojans before, and his nephew is SC legend Troy Polamalu(notes). And this is not a slight against Pola; he did what he was supposed to when one is presented with what looks like a better job. You man up, tell your current employer that the grass is suddenly greener, you shake hands, and you move on. It happens every day. Unfortunately, what also seems to happen just about every day is another example of Lane Kiffin doing the wrong thing ... even when the right thing is easier.
Fisher has said that the Titans will hire from within the organization to replace Pola. The good news for the Titans, we suppose, is that as long as Chris Johnson is healthy, the job of running backs coach for the Titans isn't terribly complicated. It's probably not as simple as writing "GIVE CHRIS THE BALL AGAIN" on a chalkboard and going home, but it isn't brain surgery, either.
In the end, it's quite possible that Pola will regret his decision — he's moving from one of the most respected coaches and well-run organizations in the NFL to a major college program awash in sanctions and run by a guy who has proven to be a snake throughout his career. Promotions are nice, but those are not the best circumstances under which to operate.
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