Dave Hooker Audio
It’s only natural to think that new Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin would just stroll down the hall when he needed some coaching advice.
After all, Kiffin’s father, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, is just a few steps away in the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex.
Yet the Kiffins don’t exactly work like that.
Sure, Monte Kiffin is always there, but he’s not the first person his son calls when he needs a professional ear to bend.
“It’s not that much really,” UT’s defensive coordinator said Friday when asked how often he offers advice to his 33-year-old son. “It was more when he was younger. His mentor has really been Pete Carroll for six years.”
As a Southern California assistant (2001-07), Lane Kiffin saw Carroll rebuild the Trojans first hand.
At the same time, Monte Kiffin was busy building his bulging resume in various NFL cities.
“That’s where he became a really good coach, under Pete Carroll,” Monte Kiffin said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Having coached with Carroll for nine years over his career, Monte Kiffin knew his son was in good hands at USC.
Now, UT’s program is in Lane Kiffin’s hands — and there have been some fumbles along the way.
There were Kiffin’s allegations of cheating against Florida coach Urban Meyer, some semi-gloating concerning the hiring of former Alabama assistant Lance Thompson and a trio of minor, secondary NCAA violations — all since Kiffin was hired in late November.
The quantity of the issues — more than the severity of any one of them — has painted Lane Kiffin as cocky to some and confident to others. Varied opinions are largely based on rooting interests.
“Maybe there’s times that Lane has come off as arrogant,” Monte Kiffin said. “… But I know he’s not arrogant.
“He’s confident in what he’s doing. That could have been misconstrued a little bit. My son’s not perfect, you know. Neither am I.”
Yet perfect may be what many fans expect from Lane Kiffin, who replaced one of SEC’s most recognizable figures in Phillip Fulmer.
The magnitude of doing such — as well as leading one of the nation’s top programs — has been a bit startling for the Kiffins, even for Monte Kiffin, who has 30-plus years of coaching experience.
“I knew this was a big deal here. That’s why I came here,” Monte Kiffin said. “It’s an awesome place but he’s (Lane Kiffin) got a lot on his plate.
“It’s unbelievable. Tennessee football is big. He was ready for that. He’s doing a good job of it. There is a lot that you have to do. There are a lot of demands on you. He knew that. He saw Pete Carroll go through that at Southern Cal.”
Few coordinators in the SEC are as young as Lane Kiffin, who is heading up a college program for the first time in his young career. It’s easy to point to age when Kiffin makes a misstep.
Monte Kiffin disagrees with such a notion.
“I don’t think it has to do with age,” he said. “You could be 53. There’s a lot. If you’re the head coach at Tennessee, you better know what you’re doing and be able to wear a lot of different hats.”
As for the Meyer allegations, Monte Kiffin will point to the excitement of that now infamous recruiting breakfast as one of the reasons his son said too much.
UT had just come off a thrilling National Signing Day in which the Vols secured two former Florida commitments: receiver Nu’Keese Richardson and athlete Marsalis Teague.
The crowd was begging to be worked into a frenzy. Yet Monte Kiffin doesn’t use the surroundings as an excuse.
“You certainly can’t say those things,” Monte Kiffin said. “If you had been there to see it, you’d have seen he was excited about Eddie (Orgeron) recruiting the guy.”
If Lane Kiffin achieves the same success that his mentor, Carroll, has achieved at USC, memories of that breakfasts and other missteps will fade quickly. Monte Kiffin doesn’t think the challenge in Knoxville is nearly as tough as it was in Los Angeles.
“Tennessee has been better than what Southern Cal was,” Monte Kiffin said, “but I think that growing experience of being under Pete and recruiting nationwide has been very beneficial to him.”