Lane Kiffin wasn’t at Tennessee long. But his time there was so memorable, it inspired song.
For the less musically inclined, Kiffin inspired philanthropy.
But more than anything, Kiffin’s one, scandal-ridden season On Rocky Top inspired pure, unbridled anger.
Kiffin’s was but a single chapter in the altogether tumultuous last half-decade of Vols football. At 7-6, Kiffin has the best record of any of Tennessee’s four head coaches since 2008. Phil Fulmer went 5-7 in 2008, Derek Dooley finished 6-7, 5-7 and 5-7 in his disastrous three-year stint, and Butch Jones was 5-7 in his debut season.
Kiffin’s Vols team was also the most competitive against a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team, losing 12-10 on Terrence Cody’s championship-preserving field goal block.
The other five scores in the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry: 29-9 in 2008; 41-10 in 2010; 37-6 in 2011; 44-13 in 2012; and 45-10 last season.
Once a premier college football rivalry, Alabama-Tennessee lost some of its luster in the 2000s.Jones is doing an admirable job rebuilding the once-proud Tennessee program, but as his “Brick-by-Brick” theme suggests, it’s going to take time before the Vols are at the level of the SEC heavyweight Crimson Tide.
It’s no longer The Third Saturday in October, nor is it a showdown for Southeastern Conference supremacy, but Alabama-Tennessee gets a much-needed shot in the arm in 2014 when the Tide visit Neyland Stadium.
Saban’s hire of Kiffin was one of the more earth-shaking moves this offseason. His three-years-and-change at USC almost made his time at Tennessee look downright stable. But working with the most talented collection of players in the nation, and with his duties limited to just focusing on the offense, Kiffin is undergoing something of an image rehabilitation.
Part of that requires a trip back to Knoxville.
Saban was asked about the animus Vols fans feel toward their former head coach at Thursday’s installment of SEC media days. Per TideSports.com’s Aaron Suttles:
Nick Saban asked about Lane Kiffin's expected reception in Knoxville: "We joke about it. They don't like him because they liked him before."
— Aaron Suttles (@AaronSuttles) July 17, 2014
That’s certainly a rose-colored (or Crimson-colored) lens through which Saban judges Tennessee’s distaste for Kiffin. Some former Vols players expressed feelings of betrayal upon his departure. Then, almost three years later, NCAA penalties probably didn’t lessen the sting of his unexpected departure.
Old wounds reopen. Perhaps it’s the first step toward truly restoring a great rivalry.