- Coach Kiffin addresses the media on the first day of Spring practice
- Kiffin: Team leadership and the offensive line
- What Kiffin expects from the Vols this Spring
- Jim Chaney on the offensive line
- Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron on the defensive line
- Eric Berry on Spring practice and the new coaches
- UT players talk about getting back to practice
- Vol football: 1st Spring practice
Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin has given his new football team a wonderful gift. He has given it a pardon.
How could the returnees from a 5-7 team ask for more?
Kiffin reiterated at Tuesday’s spring-practice press conference what he has been saying since he accepted athletic director Mike Hamilton’s offer to succeed Phillip Fulmer as UT’s head coach. He won’t judge players by what happened last year. He will judge them by what happens this spring.
Translation: Last season never happened.
Forget the second-half collapse against UCLA. Or the offensive gridlock at Auburn. Or the methodical beat-downs against arch-rival Florida and Alabama. Or even the loss to Wyoming.
It doesn’t matter how great a role someone played in those debacles. His record has been expunged. No exceptions. Even those who took part in the Dave Clawson Experiment won’t be stigmatized.
Clawson, the brains behind UT’s 115th-ranked offense, has moved on to a head-coaching job at Bowling Green. Kiffin won’t punish the first-time offenders Clawson left behind. They’ve got no priors with him.
Too bad, fans can’t see this offense in the same objective glow. They have memories. They can suppress them for awhile, but the damage has been done. Flashbacks are inevitable.
Kiffin has memories, too. His quarterbacks at Southern California won Heisman Trophies. His running backs included Reggie Bush and LenDale White.
How good were Bush and White? They were so good that Kiffin doesn’t even have to identify them. He just refers to “the big back and the fast back” and anyone remotely familiar with college football can provide the names.
UT fans will see a USC-style offense this fall. They won’t see USC-style players.
Kiffin might be open-minded in his evaluations. But he’s not blind. He knows no Bush, White or Heisman quarterback will appear at first whistle.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney also might have figured out there’s no Drew Brees warming up in the wings at quarterback. Brees was Chaney’s starting quarterback for three years at Purdue, and Chaney only needed one game to realize what he had.
“My mother could have seen that,” Chaney said. “I knew my mortgage was paid.”
UT once had sure things on offense, too. It had Peyton Manning at quarterback, and Jamal Lewis at running back. Now, it doesn’t have a first-team, All-SEC player on offense. And if I were filling out a preseason ballot today, it wouldn’t include a UT player on the second-team offense, either.
But Kiffin and his staff don’t care what I think, or what the previous staff thought. They want to see for themselves this spring.
They didn’t wait for the spring in regard to tight end Brandon Warren. They saw enough of his speed and agility during off-season conditioning work to believe he could make the transition to wide receiver.
This spring will be a great opportunity for Warren, a freshman All-American at Florida State who barely could get on the field last season after transferring to UT. In fact, it will be a great opportunity for everyone.
Kiffin’s offense might fit the USC prototype, but don’t get the wrong idea. It’s more blue-collar than Hollywood, more physical than finesse. USC’s offense is exciting because USC’s recruiting affords it big-time playmakers.
Eventually, Kiffin and his staff should do the same for UT. In the meantime, maybe they can uncover a playmaker or two that the last staff couldn’t. Or perhaps, a less-complex offensive system will free players to make more plays and restore their confidence in the process.
UT had the worst-case offensive scenario in 2008. New quarterbacks didn’t mesh with a new offensive system, an experienced offensive line under-achieved, and there was a dearth of playmakers at running back and wide receiver.
Kiffin can’t right the wrongs of last fall’s offense. But he has done the next best thing. He has deemed it irrelevant to the task at hand.
There’s no guilt by association. There’s no depth chart. Players will be judged on what they do, not what they did.
The holdovers from one of the worst offenses in school history couldn’t ask for more.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.