ATLANTA — Lane Kiffin stayed tight-lipped in the afternoon.
But when the Tennessee coach officially had a deal in place to fill the first vacancy on his staff, he had plenty to talk about.
The Vols are bringing Kippy Brown back for a third tour of duty, and Kiffin could hardly be happier about bringing the former UT and NFL coaching veteran to take over the wide receivers and become passing-game coordinator.
“This is a great day for Tennessee football,” Kiffin said in a UT release Thursday evening. “When hiring assistant coaches you sometimes feel like you hit a home run. By bringing Kippy back to the Tennessee family, I feel like we hit a grand slam.
“Having known Kippy since 1990, I never imagined being able to add him to our staff, but we always start our searches at the top.”
Kiffin has made clear all along he wouldn’t be rushed into any decisions during the search, but with mutual interest from a target at the top of the list, he didn’t have to wait long to bring in a replacement for Frank Wilson.
Less than two weeks after losing Wilson to LSU, the Vols got their guy — again — and Brown will be back with them today as they resume preparation for the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Virginia Tech on New Year’s Eve (TV: ESPN, 7:30 p.m.).
“Well, there probably will be a decision soon,” Brown, a native of Sweetwater, told the News Sentinel earlier Thursday. “Right now we’re still working through some things, I’ve got to still work through some things. We’ve just got to make sure it’s comfortable and everything is right when you’re moving your family and all those things.
“We’re getting close — real, real close.”
Kiffin apparently hasn’t closed the gap nearly as much as he looks for a running backs coach to replace Eddie Gran, who was hired by Florida State, but the wheels are in motion.
It might help UT narrow its focus now it has the first hiring out of the way.
“I’ve made a lot of progress,” Kiffin said after his Chick-fil-A Bowl luncheon. “Out of respect to them and their NFL teams or college teams, I’m not going to get into names.
“I’ve made some progress, I still don’t know the timeline, and I’ll never have a timeline for you. It will always be finding the best guys we can find.”
It wound up with one in Brown, a respected coaching mind with a proven track record with receivers — both at UT and in the NFL.
A 13-year veteran in the NFL, he also worked two stints for the Vols between 1983-89 and again in 1993-94 under Phillip Fulmer. He was most recently an assistant with the Detroit Lions in 2008, and he also spent a season working with UT defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin when the two were both with the New York Jets in 1990.
The pro ties might ultimately have made him more appealing to the third coach he’ll work with at UT, but the familiarity with the school likely helped sell Brown on a return. Brown was in the mix a year ago when Kiffin was forming his first staff at UT.
“Six of our nine coaches have now come here from NFL teams,” Kiffin said. “Not only is he one of the best wide receiver coaches in the college or NFL ranks, he has a great connection to the Tennessee family and was an unbelievable recruiter in his two previous coaching stints here under coach (Johnny) Majors and coach Fulmer.”
Kiffin can now add his name to that list, and the timing of the move couldn’t be better.
But there’s still one more hole left to fill.
“When we talk about having the best staff in America that recruits well, you’d better have it,” Kiffin said. “We’ll take our time to make sure that we do.”
Once they find him though, the Vols proved they won’t hesitate to pull the trigger.