Strange: Hires of ’08 have impact already

It was the best of times Saturday. It the worst of times Saturday.

It was the best of times at Auburn.

It was the worst of times at Tennessee.

And it was a pretty swell time at Mississippi State, too.

Let’s jump in the Wayback Machine for a moment and set the dial for December 2008.

Within a span of two weeks, three SEC schools were hiring new head football coaches to turn around declining fortunes.

Tennessee went first, with Lane Kiffin. Auburn introduced Gene Chizik and Mississippi State trotted out Dan Mullen.

The splashy hire of the three was Kiffin, with his golden Southern Cal aura and controversial NFL interlude with Al Davis and the Raiders.

Chizik seemed an underwhel-ming choice at Auburn, after going 5-19 in two seasons at Iowa State.

Mullen had the Urban Meyer-Tim Tebow link, but was hardly a household name in living rooms in Dallas or San Diego.

Kiffin scored big again on the staff front, luring his legendary dad Monte from the NFL, along with recruiting madman Ed Orgeron.

Funny how things have turned out nearly two years later. Or, not so funny if you’re in Tennessee.

For anyone who bleeds orange, the scene at Neyland Stadium grew more depressing the longer Saturday night wore on.

Alabama kept padding its margin, all the way to 41-10.

The audience at the end was clad primarily in Crimson.

One patron had to be shushed by a police officer from yelling an obscenity at athletic director Mike Hamilton on the sideline.

The Vols are 2-5, 0-4 SEC, and slogging through a winless October.

A few hours earlier, the scene at Jordan-Hare Stadium was different, 180 degrees different.

Auburn had just wrapped up a thrilling win over LSU that propels the Tigers into position to play for a national championship if they can stay unbeaten.

And — bonus points — Auburn is in that position because in Cameron Newton it has the new Heisman Trophy favorite.

Short of Auburn’s ecstasy but far above Tennessee’s agony is Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs, fresh off a win at Florida last week, beat UAB to improve to 6-2.

State is ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 2001 and riding a five-game winning streak. Good times in Starkville.

There have been other successes in the hiring class of 2008. Chip Kelly, promoted at Oregon, has taken the Ducks to the next level.

Doug Marrone has Syracuse pointed in the right direction. At Iowa State, Paul Rhoads has a bowl win and victories at Nebraska and Texas.

The point is not to rub salt in any Tennessee wounds. It’s just interesting how things play out in college athletics, as in life. You never know.

With the benefit of hindsight, Tennessee made the bad hire in 2008. Not because Kiffin was a dunce, but because he left after one season.

I believe Hamilton and UT were unlucky, more than anything. There was no way to predict the Southern Cal job would open up last January, or that enough candidates would turn it down to put Kiffin in play.

But it happened.

Thus, through no fault of his own, Derek Dooley faces an unenviable job at Tennessee as the third head coach in three seasons.

Back in 2008, three SEC programs had fallen on hard enough times to make a coaching change.

As of Saturday, one of them was still there.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276.

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Comments » 17

wigmeister writes:

It is what it is. Too much negativity. Rebuilding takes time.
We have a great coaching staff. We just need enough talented bodies!

bearbull95#206250 writes:

It is a process, and the first steps (or year or two) of the process are many times painful. But CDD's process with the program establishes a mentality of relentless competition and focus that will show more next year when a lot of these first-timers are more seasoned with the winter conditioning, a spring practice and another summer conditioning under their belt. Add a full complement of another solid recruiting class of what Johnny Cash sang about - Tennessee Studs (not necessarily all from Tenn), and we'll see a dramatic improvement.

bmaples writes:

First-year coach, mostly new staff, 3rd-youngest team in the FBS. Put them together, and you realize that there is NO WAY to know if our problems are youth, athletes, coaches, or coaching.

Only way to tell is to give CDD two more years. Sorry if anyone doesn't have patience for that -- but that is what needs to happen. By then we should have some idea of whether this staff can recruit, coach fundamentals, game-plan, game-teach, and game-manage. And, we'll have some idea whether these players are just young, or not very good.

This year will be a throw-away year. Next year we should see some improvement. The third year is the test. Till then, unless something changes drastically, I'm behind CDD, the staff, and the players.

Bruce in Louisville

jumboliyah writes:

Still there? I think not...we are much worse off now than then...the recruiting classes of 2006,07,08 were pitiful...over rated, 09 we will see...better get a heck of a class this year!

jumboliyah writes:

I must say, Chenney didn't help the players in second half, his play calling was out guessed by Bama as they sat in waiting...those picks weren't because they had great players, they were in the right place waiting for the ball, that was coaching.

And I coached grasshoppers (6 year olds) and NEVER had 9, 10 or 12, or 13 players on the field...I mean even 6 year olds can get that right! Geez.

tovolny writes:

I wish that KNS would think aa little bit about the GVX audience. Most if not the entire bunch of us already know the stuff that Strange just muddled through. NEWS is a report of RECENT events, not a history lesson, IMO.

I only scanned the posts, and don't expect anyone to read this. Sometimes you just have to move on when you see where the item is going.

NashvillePreds writes:

I wonder how many more times the football team can embarrass the University this year?

Between athletes robbing gas stations, carrying guns with no serial numbers, using drugs, getting into bar brawls, and consistently getting their heads kicked in on the gridiron, it is truly great to be a Tennessee Vol.

NashvillePreds writes:

Oh, I forgot to mention coaches lying to NCAA investigators, and possible sanctions for baseball, basketball, and football.

How much money to the combined 234 assistant atheltic directors rake in to make it such a rosy time on Rocky Top? Is it time now Mike Hamilton?

arkyvol writes:

say what you will about kiffen, but he backed up his challenges and taunts on the playing field. his teams believed in him and played florida and bama out of their jocks. for all the respect dooley has for our traditions and from the s.e.c. coaching fraternity, his team has folded like a cheap tent. don't get me wrong--i thought kiffen was a mistake, the first desperation move by a lightweight athletic director who couldn't get his phone calls returned by serious (and available) coaches. a year later later, he followed up with even more of a long shot. i wish dooley the best, but how many times can you hope to fill an inside straight? as for hammy, i wish him anywhere but knoxville.

Pompey writes:

I fully support DD and wish him the best for the future, but I have grave questions about the process that was used to hire both he and Kiffin. In both cases I would like to know who was interviewed, who turned us down, who was passed over etc. Keeping this information under wraps is as arrogant as not disclosing all of the Pearl situation.....very troubling!

Prostar writes:

I said it once and I'll say it again, for all his athletic ability Cam Newton is a liar and a thief. I'm glad he's not on our team. Auburn is pretty much one-dimentional. A twisted knee or a high ankle sprain and AU doesn't have much offense. We didn't get in this mess in one year and we won't get out of it in one either.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Pompey:

I fully support DD and wish him the best for the future, but I have grave questions about the process that was used to hire both he and Kiffin. In both cases I would like to know who was interviewed, who turned us down, who was passed over etc. Keeping this information under wraps is as arrogant as not disclosing all of the Pearl situation.....very troubling!

We would all like to know the answers to your questions, but hires of this magnitude cannot be handled in the way you might prefer. For example, if we are seeking a coach who already has a job, the LAST thing he would want is to be "outed" as a candidate for another job. If we interview someone and publicly announce that he wasn't suitable after all, how is this prospect or any other for that matter going to react? Just because the match of a particular coach for a particular position at a particular time isn't feasible right now doesn't mean it couldn't work out later. In that case, why would any of the affected parties want to burn bridges? Frustrating as it may be, there are MANY reasons why most of the negotiating MUST take place behind the scenes.

dtennessee#235123 writes:

The AD has to go. He's the consant over the last three years. The football program under his reign has been set back ten years.

Don't even get me started on the basketball fiasco.
FIRE HAMILTON

OrangePride writes:

Right.......Tennessee ended up with the short end of the stick on all these hires. Some of that was Kiffin, some of that was just a pretty bare cupboard. Whatever, it MUST get better and get better sooner rather than later. And just between you and me, I am really a little tired of seeing 2/3 crimson and their band celebrating in our building at the end of the game! This has as much to do with Vol "fans" leaving early and fair weather Vol "fans" selling their tickets and not even attending the game. WE fans can do better too! As for me, 11-1 or 1-11, I plan to support my team! GO VOLS!!

nicknack1 writes:

in response to DukeDeLuca:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

The hiring of Bruce Pearl kept Hamilton alive

bwilson177 writes:

Actually the misery began in 06, that is when the change should have occurred, Hamilton was late to the dance,
Kiffin was a bad hire regardless of SC opening, in time he will be gone from USC, he is a train wreck looking for the place to let it happen
Dooley and staff can only make chicken salad from chicken not from a lot of other items.
Let's cool off, give Dooley a fair opportunity to take this program to the next level..
He has couple of advantages over Kiffin, morals, value, intergirty, and great preparation for this level..

GO VOL's

volboy81 writes:

we'll be back!!!! And woe be it to the SEC when we get there.

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