Is Tennesseeís Lane Kiffin really the worst hire in the modern era of SEC football?
Yes, he is.
Actually, I wrote that he was the worst hire in SEC history, which might be a stretch. As it is, I donít have a working list of every football coach in SEC history at my disposal. But I am willing to stand by the ďmodern eraĒ addendum.
Before I go any further, remember we are critiquing the hire here. This isnít a judgment on what kind of coach Lane Kiffin will become, but rather on the UT athletic department and their hiring process. I'm well aware that Kiffin has yet to coach an SEC game.
Letís start with a list of 10 questionable SEC hires from the past 25 years: Mike Shula, Mike Dubose, Mike Price and Bill Curry (Alabama); Rod Dowhower (Vanderbilt), Curley Hallman and Gerry DiNardo (LSU), Ed Orgeron (Ole Miss), Gene Chizik (Auburn) and Ron Zook (Florida).
Letís start by eliminating the coaches who had proven themselves successful at other stops before landing in the SEC: Mike Price (coached Washington State into the Rose Bowl), Bill Curry (seven years at Georgia Tech), Gerry DiNardo (somehow managed 18 wins over a four-year span at Vanderbilt), and Curley Hallman (coached Brett Favre and Southern Miss to a 23-11 record over three seasons).
Cross off Mike DuBose, who was the overwhelming fansí choice to replace Gene Stallings in 1996.
Adios to Rod Dowhower. He was a terrible hire, but itís not like Vandyís got the pick of the litter.
Consider the Tideís predicament that led to the hiring of Mike Shula: Dennis Franchione bolted for Texas A&M in the wake of NCAA sanctions and Mike Priceís Destiny got him rolled out of town before he coached a game. Bama needed an image overhaul, quickly. So they picked the clean-cut quarterback alum with a coaching pedigree and a hot wife and gave him roughly 130 days to get his team together. Was it a good hire? No. But considering the circumstancesÖcross him off.
Ron Zook had been coaching defense in the NFL and college for 24 years before making the jump into the driverís seat at Florida. Canít fault the Gators for hiring based on that experience. Heís out.
That leaves us with Orgeron and Chizik, the only two hires comparable to Kiffinís. Gene Chizikís hire was questionable at best, ludicrous at worst. But, he did have prior collegiate coaching experience at Iowa State, which is more than we can say for Kiffin. And, while he did a terrible job with the Cyclones, he didnít really have a whole lot to work with. Chizik also gets bonus points for keeping a low profile on The Plains thus far, something we really wish we could say about Lane Kiffin. Cross Chiz off the list.
Thereís only one coach on this board who can match Kiffin in embarrassment potential (as in, his mannerisms/words/actions are embarrassing our program), and thatís Ed Orgeron. However, Ole Miss canít completely be faulted for hiring Orgeron straight out of the USC juggernaut when his stock was highest. Had Kiffin come to Tennessee directly from USC, before his dreadful stopover in Oakland, heíd have been given the same benefit of the doubt weíre giving Colonel Reb. Reluctantly, we cross Coach O off the list.
That leaves Lane all by his lonesome. He had no significant experience prior to landing in Shangri-la at USC. He had a cast of all-stars at his disposal (Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, etc) that certainly didnít need much in the way of coaching up. And rumor has it that Norm Chow and Steve Sarkisian were more responsible for the Trojans offensive game plan than Kiffin was.
And then thereís that dreadful stopover in Oakland? When Al Davis calls you an embarrassment, geez, thatís like Dick Nixon calling you a paranoid schizophrenic. But Iím inclined to believe old man, especially in light of the bizarre behavior Kiffin has exhibited since taking over in Knoxville. He accused Urban Meyer of cheating (later retracted), told Sports Illustrated heíd fired a bunch of UT staffers (not true), told a recruit from South Carolina that heíd be pumping gas for a living if he spurned the Vols (he spurned anyway) and, most egregiously, he hired Ed Orgeron.