Pennington: Kiffin is sending the right messages

Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin has done a lot of talking since he arrived in Knoxville. His comments - some boastful, some accusatory - have drawn national attention. Whether by design or not, Kiffin's talking points have made headlines from ESPN to Newsweek.

But it's his actual, honest-to-goodness football statements that should have Vol fans feeling good about the future. Forget the "you'll pump gas" nonsense and take note of the gridiron messages this staff is sending.

Attack The Weakest Link

New offensive coordinator Jim Chaney recently told a collection of high school coaches that his staff will find the weakest player on the opposing defense and attack him. Repeatedly.

Why is that good to hear? Because for years you've heard coaches like Steve Spurrier say, "Tennessee is going to do what Tennessee does."

Year-in and year-out, the game plans against Florida looked an awful lot like the game plans against Alabama, Georgia or Kentucky. In the 1990s, UT had the talent to be somewhat predictable. They could enforce their will on their opponents. But in the 2000s, it caught up with them.

"We do what we do," is a far cry from the NFL, where so many current Vol coaches have worked. In the pros, game planning plays a bigger role than it does in the college game. Teams are reinvented from one week to the next. Heck, some of the best franchises are downright schizophrenic in their approach.

One week, a team might target their opponent's linebackers with numerous passes to a tight end. The next, they might run 40 times at a suspect defensive line, while that same tight end might never catch a ball. A week later, they might exploit a weak secondary with 40 passes from the shotgun and only a handful of runs.

That's now what Tennessee's coaches say they want to do.

If UT's coaches can indeed utilize their players in different ways each week, they'll have an advantage over several SEC coaches who still prefer to simply "do what they do."

A More Intense Weightroom

In October of 2007, I wrote a column in which I spoke to nine former Tennessee players who still had contact with the program. Weightroom intensity was a concern mentioned by several of those ex-Vols.

"Tennessee's workouts are just not as competitive and intense as they used to be," one former Vol told me at the time.

Another said, "I've seen guys drop by the weightroom with their bookbags between classes. That didn't happen when I played. You didn't go in there to talk and break the focus of guys who were working out. If you're not working out, you're not in there."

Fast forward to the present day. Now players have to wear matching gear to workouts. No jewelry. No iPods. No ballcaps. No skipping reps at the weightbench. And someone is always watching, always monitoring. The weightroom is all business.

The current Vols have said that that's been an adjustment. And some former UT athletes no longer feel comfortable even going into the weightroom. More intense? Absolutely.

A More Competitive Practice

Another concern mentioned by former Vols back in that 2007 piece was a drop in the competitive nature of Tennessee's practices.

"We used to really get after it on scout team," one ex-Vol told me. "Then they started telling us to 'stand here, don't move, you might get someone hurt.' "

Fast forward to the present day. No green jerseys. More hitting. More contact.

Another former Vol told me in 2007, "Practice was like a game. You think Al Wilson and Peyton Manning didn't view practice as competition? It was all about winning those little battles in practice. And when you're used to doing it in practice, it carries over in games."

And now? Faster drills. A greater sense of competition. A non-existent depth chart with only All-American safety Eric Berry's job secure. In fact, in a much told story, the players have become so competitive that they actually refused to leave the field after a recent practice session, preferring to run one more play. And then another. And then another.

More competitive in practice? Someone find the "Mission Accomplished" banner.

Better In The Long Run

Kiffin and his staff are addressing the areas that need addressing. Where Tennessee was once viewed as predictable, the Vols now want to make major game plan adjustments from one week to the next.

Where players had once seen a decline in weightroom intensity, Kiffin has turned up the heat.

Where players had once seen a decline in competitiveness on the practice field, Kiffin has now made every job up for grabs and every player open to being hit.

All that said, with the current talent level, it's hard to imagine the Vols will be able to make a giant leap forward this fall. The pay-off to the recent changes may come down the road, if at all.

But for now at least, the messages that Kiffin and his staff are sending sound like the answers to many fans' prayers.

John Pennington hosts the The Enrichment Sports Source on Sundays at 11 a.m. on WATE.

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Comments » 40

promiselandfarm writes:

Let me be the first to say that this team had better get it in gear and kick somebody's butt during the season and not just win by the skin of their teeth.

RJ_Vol writes:

Nice article.

orangevolz writes:

in response to 02champs#209256:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Sorry it was too complicated for you to understand. It was a very good story.

eefor10c writes:

Did you get your information from unnamed sources on the UT football team?

RoadTrip writes:

Back of the bus, Pennington - you are late to the party.

Go watch the old Sports Source shows and you will see where he stood on things. 02champs is right.

gohawks1 writes:

More intense workouts, more competitive practices... I like what I hear.

Coach_Joe writes:

Good article Mr. Pennington!

This is exactly what most of the UT fan base has been wanting to see and it's coming to fruitition. Even if we only gain two more wins this next season it will be a step in the right direction.

Our new coach has set the tone early to these young men that he isn't going to take any phooey from them. They either do what their supposed to or they're gone. I'm not seeing anyone get five chances like the old regime gave.

Question: I wonder how many chances Coach LK would've given L. Coker? I think he's made it very clear that just because you're one of the better players doesn't mean you'll get five chances.

Question 2: Has anyone stated why Donald Langley was kicked off the team?

vol_chaz writes:

Spurrier is right, We always did the same thing, very predictable..and SC finally caught up this past year, skill wise.....Kiffin IS sending the right message, right down to the "loaf cam" in the weight room.. It may not happen this year, but to be honest, this year's schedule is ripe for the picking...next year's is brutal..

kjvols writes:

in response to ButchIsBack:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

and won two of those which I was at,at got his tail whipped in the others which I was at

mj54 writes:

in response to ButchIsBack:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

And had losing seasons 2 of the last 4 years, including losses to Vandy (2005) and Wyoming (2008). Hopefully that will never be duplicated. Within that time frame we also lost to an inferior Bama team by 24 points and a 4 loss UF team by 39 points. Fulmer never beat Meyer and didn't come close to Saban while he's been at Bama.

How do you define slippage?

pdhuff#552644 writes:

in response to mj54:

And had losing seasons 2 of the last 4 years, including losses to Vandy (2005) and Wyoming (2008). Hopefully that will never be duplicated. Within that time frame we also lost to an inferior Bama team by 24 points and a 4 loss UF team by 39 points. Fulmer never beat Meyer and didn't come close to Saban while he's been at Bama.

How do you define slippage?

You left out 10 years of no SEC rings.

Cherokee writes:

in response to 99aintagator:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

We're spending money for a competitive staff just like any top program would do. Florida's not spending a lot of money? Urban Meyer was an "experiment" too at one point. And he is absolutely going to take his lumps over time, just like any coach will. He's not some genius, just like Spurrier wasn't. Given time, other teams will adjust and Meyer will lose his share. He'll still be a good coach, but he'll lose his share.

iowavol writes:

I totally disagree with "the lack of talent" on this team. What is he thinking about? A top ten defense with this coaching staff should be no less than a top three defense. Our weak link on offense is the o-line followed by QB. Get adequate play out of these two areas and we should be able to move the ball and eat some clock which leads to a more dominant defense. We have talent on this team and it appears this coaching staff will be capable of getting the most out of them.

Southpaw_Vol writes:

Wow! I am impressed! Mr. Pennington has done something I haven't seen in a long time regarding Tennessee Football. He wrote a positive article that was relevant.

Now, if we can just get John Adams aboard.

Good article. The first TN Football article that I have gotten anything out of in a couple of years or so. Not one negative tidbit in the whole article. See, that wasn't so hard was it?

OrangePride writes:

I realize there are a LOT of people who want instant success here........but for me? I think the change in direction, philosophy, and work ethic is a GREAT place to start. I am very optimistic that the VOLS are going to look sharper and be more energized in 2009. They are going to be more competitive, win games they should win, and I think they are going to shock somebody. Most of all, I think Tennessee football is going to be fun to watch next season....something it surely wasn't, last season. So GO VOLS!

OrangePride writes:

in response to iowavol:

I totally disagree with "the lack of talent" on this team. What is he thinking about? A top ten defense with this coaching staff should be no less than a top three defense. Our weak link on offense is the o-line followed by QB. Get adequate play out of these two areas and we should be able to move the ball and eat some clock which leads to a more dominant defense. We have talent on this team and it appears this coaching staff will be capable of getting the most out of them.

I would agree with you Iowa. One of the biggest problems last year was the OL (which was experienced and talented...should have done more). That led to quarterback jitters, bad decisions, and a complete meltdown. There is talent there, but that talent needs development and a team blocking scheme that fits those talents. I think that's underway!

Bigger_Al writes:

Was Johnny Long not as intimidating and demanding as Coach Stuckey? I guess not. We seemed to still had guys setting records, but we were not as physical on the field. 1998 was the epicenter of UT's physicality.

wyomingvol writes:

in response to ButchIsBack:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

0-3 Since 00' in SEC Title Games.

One major/BCS bowl in 10 years..

Two sub .500 teams in the last 4 years...

Losing to the biggest rivals by 150pts combined in the last 2 years....

Naaa, the program had not slipped....

You are right, it won't be duplicated,,, it has already been eclipsed in 5 years by the Florida Gators.. Almost by the Dawgs, and soon by the Tide..

give_him_6 writes:

It's all a matter of focus and intensity. Long was a good coach. He had kids going to the NFL. Now, the numbers of the kids he had going were a huge drop off from the middle to late nineties. The tlaent has been there. IT'S WHAT YOU DO WITH IT WHEN IT GETS TO SCHOOL!! That's where I think the slide began. Not enough structure in the workout enviroment. That seems to have all changed. And that's where it has to start. That will set the tone for all that comes later. And that's the foundation tht we can build a championship team on!!

Go Vols!!!

murrayvol writes:

in response to ButchIsBack:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Pick another team Butchie.....any team. The applause from this board will be deafening.

PaulTheVol writes:

in response to 99aintagator:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Just about every athletic department in the SEC is spending money like a drunken sailor. It used to be "if you ain't cheating then you ain't trying". Now it's "if you ain't spending then you're just pretending".

Caveman writes:

Caveman say young Kiffin do as he say he would; he walk-the-walk.

Fire say NUFF SAID!!

VOLKING writes:

in response to ButchIsBack:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Fire Butchisback! Geno is a cheater!

rbhobbs73#226545 writes:

in response to ButchIsBack:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

LSU has played in 4 of the last 8 SEC Title games and won 3 of them....with 2 National Titles.

Florida has played in 4 of the last 10 and won 3 of them...with 2 National Titles.

Tennessee has played in 5 of the last 11...won the first 2 and lost the last 3....with 1 National Title.

I am a Tennessee fan, but which resume would you rather have?

Never to duplicated...you, sir...once again...are an idiot.

Colliervol writes:

in response to ButchIsBack:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

And exactly how many of those did we win? One?

Obviously, you haven't been paying attention the last few years. Even when we won the East two years ago, we backed into it. This program was sliding for the last eight years in coaching, in performance, in recruiting, and in discipline on the field and off it.

Agendas are a terrible thing. Get over it and move on. 99.9% of us already have. If Kiffin doesn't get it done, we'll just hire another one.

NoChildLeftaDime writes:

145

days until kickoff, that is.

Volunatic writes:

in response to Bigger_Al:

Was Johnny Long not as intimidating and demanding as Coach Stuckey? I guess not. We seemed to still had guys setting records, but we were not as physical on the field. 1998 was the epicenter of UT's physicality.

That same thought has occurred to me. I've always heard that Johnny Long was a really likeable guy, and he won some national awards for his work here, but it sounds to me like he wasn't the drill sergeant type like Stuckey.
Also, if Pennington knew anything about UT history, he would have mentioned Tim Kerin among the great trainers that UT lost in the '90's.
I still call "BS" on these anonymous former players that Pennington writes about, but this was an interesting article anyway.

richvol writes:

Beautiful...love to hear it.

claiborneh writes:

in response to Navalorange:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

As a past walk on of the football program, this article is an exageration. What are ex players supposed to say- "ah yeah, its more intense now than it used to be when I was there" I suppose they have to try and write about something. Artcles like this are silly to me.

GaytorHater writes:

in response to hiresanders:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You are a sorry piece of sh--

justincredible369#357762 writes:

coach em up Kiffins

Bloodrunzorange writes:

in response to Bigger_Al:

Was Johnny Long not as intimidating and demanding as Coach Stuckey? I guess not. We seemed to still had guys setting records, but we were not as physical on the field. 1998 was the epicenter of UT's physicality.

You are right! Johnny Long...Not that strong! Stuckey was "hated and feared" but "respected" by his players. I know that for a fact. Good post Bigger_Al! Not may people even know who Johnny Long was. That showed on and off the field!

Colliervol writes:

in response to hiresanders:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Non UT fan. Opinion irrelevant.

philfan writes:

in response to Navalorange:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Navalorange,

Your definition of an interloper is a fan who disagrees with you.

The problem with Kiffin is that he talks and brags continuously yet has no experience as a Head Coach in college football. None, as in zilch. Are you expecting that all freshmen will be playing on game day just because they are competitive in the weight room? If so, you are very naive. I can guarantee you will see just about the same players on game day as you saw last year. Why? Because they were judged by the coaching staff to be the best we had.

philfan writes:

in response to Colliervol:

Non UT fan. Opinion irrelevant.

Kiffin should not have made the false statement that Meyer was a cheater. He should also not have said that players who choose to go to South carolina will end up pumping gas. I am as much a Tennessee fan as the next person, but those statements were just plain stupid, laughable, and crass. Those statements will end up haunting him for a long time. It will be particularly embarrassing if Florida and/or USC defeat us this year.

Kiffin has no class and is crass. He should be called Coach Crass Kiffin.

shadab writes:

Well said. Hope we don't get all jacked up and go Patriots on em though Johnny P! Peace

10volunteers98 writes:

in response to ButchIsBack:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yes,and we won a grand total of two out of five.That was pitiful.You`re right,Butch.THAT will never be duplicated.Better times are ahead for the Vols.

Colliervol writes:

in response to philfan:

Kiffin should not have made the false statement that Meyer was a cheater. He should also not have said that players who choose to go to South carolina will end up pumping gas. I am as much a Tennessee fan as the next person, but those statements were just plain stupid, laughable, and crass. Those statements will end up haunting him for a long time. It will be particularly embarrassing if Florida and/or USC defeat us this year.

Kiffin has no class and is crass. He should be called Coach Crass Kiffin.

Fulmer fan in the house. On the subject of Lane Kiffin, opinion irrelevant. When your program has become similarly irrelevant, any publicity is good publicity. You think FL and SC are going to play any better because Kiffin made a few remarks? Not likely. Emotion will carry you for about a quarter. After that, talent and coaching take over. UT is still lacking in the former (thanks to your hero) but that will be solved in a year or two.

philfan writes:

in response to Colliervol:

Fulmer fan in the house. On the subject of Lane Kiffin, opinion irrelevant. When your program has become similarly irrelevant, any publicity is good publicity. You think FL and SC are going to play any better because Kiffin made a few remarks? Not likely. Emotion will carry you for about a quarter. After that, talent and coaching take over. UT is still lacking in the former (thanks to your hero) but that will be solved in a year or two.

Any publicity is good publicity? Are you sure? Are Ed Orgeron's former legal difficulties (bar brawling, brutality to women) the kind of publicity Tennessee needs right now? Do you think Alabama benefitted from the news about its many recruiting scandals? Think before you make these statements. As for Kiffin, I don't think he will be around much longer than a couple of years. He will be fired because of his big mouth and possibly because of a recruiting scandal.

raoucubs writes:

in response to promiselandfarm:

Let me be the first to say that this team had better get it in gear and kick somebody's butt during the season and not just win by the skin of their teeth.

Well I will tell you that this offense in still nothing to brag about and this will be an improvement year. I look for us to go like 9-3 or 8-4. We need talent on the offensive side of the ball.

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