Lane and Layla Kiffin: Being part of the Vol family
Lane Kiffin awaited an arrival at the airport Friday afternoon with great anticipation. This time, it wasn't a Tennessee football recruit coming to visit.
The long separation is over. Wife Layla and three little Kiffins are in Knoxville to stay.
The new first family of UT football is reunited after five months of sporadic visits and phone calls - and the birth in January of the latest addition, Monte Knox Kiffin.
"It's been easier for me, because I've been distracted doing all the stuff to get this program headed in the direction we need to go,'' Kiffin said.
"But it's hard not having that balance of being able to go home and have that family there.''
The reunion took place in time for Kiffin's 34th birthday Saturday.
Layla and daughters Landry, 4, and Pressley, 2, stayed in Northern California in the first months after Kiffin was hired by UT on Dec. 1. That had been home for two years since Kiffin was named coach of the NFL Oakland Raiders in 2007, a relationship that ended last September.
In April, joined by Knox, they moved to her home base, Tampa, Fla., to be in shorter commuting distance to Knoxville.
The quest for a Knoxville home took longer than expected, but the Kiffins finally settled on a property on the water. They haven't moved in yet, but will soon.
Being on the water was not only a family preference, but a recruiting strategy.
"We had to spend more money on our home just to help the university in recruiting,'' Kiffin said with a smile.
Before UT chose Kiffin to replace Phillip Fulmer, the couple's reference to Tennessee was minimal.
The closest to Knoxville that Kiffin had come was Nashville, when he successfully recruited receiver Patrick Turner for Southern Cal.
Layla, who attended the University of Florida, had been to Knoxville once for a football game.
"I knew it was a great town and obviously great football,'' she said.
Her father, John Reaves, was a record-setting quarterback for the Gators 1969-71. Reports that Layla is a fan of another celebrated Florida quarterback - Tim Tebow - are true, although she plays it down.
"Sure, why not,'' she admitted Friday. "I'm a college football fan.''
A chat-room rumor that Layla and ESPN personality Erin Andrews - a Florida alumna - are friends is not true, Layla said. The two don't know each other.
As to whether it will be difficult to suppress her Florida allegiances, Layla left no ambiguity in her answer.
"I'm a Volunteer,'' she said. "That's it.''
The couple met when she was working in the front office of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kiffin was visiting his father, Monte, the team's defensive coordinator.
They married in 2000. Since her father had been a coach after his playing days, she knew what she was getting into.
"I grew up with it so I was definitely comfortable with the lifestyle,'' she said. "It's harder when kids are involved, but we're a football family, always have been and I don't think I could imagine it not being part of my life.''
Kiffin said making sure his staff has family time is critical, regardless of the time demands and pressure to win at a place like Tennessee.
"Staffs are much more functional when they do have a great balance in their sense of family,'' he said.
"There are times when I kick the coaches out of the office because they're overworking too much and need to get home and come back refreshed.''
Layla will find several familiar faces in her new UT football family, namely her father- and mother-in-law, Monte and Robin Kiffin.
Her brother David is on the staff and she has ties with the families of Ed Orgeron and James Cregg from her husband's previous jobs.
Her extended family, of course, is everyone who bleeds orange.
"I'm not too familiar with what we're going to experience,'' she said, "but I love talking to people, I'm a very friendly person and I'm looking forward to it.
"I think I can handle it.''