Monday will mark four weeks since the Phil Fulmer era effectively ended at the University of Tennessee.
More importantly it will mark the beginning of the Lane Kiffin era.
After nearly a month of intense speculation it appears that Lane Kiffin, the 33 year-old football coaching prodigy, came out on top in UT’s “once-in-a-generation” coaching search. In no time the Kiffins will assume the responsibilities of being the Vol Nation’s first family which begs the question, “Does he have any idea what he’s gotten himself into?”
Kiffin and his wife, Layla, have two young daughters, both of whom are headed for a far different life than the one they would have had in Oakland, California where their dad was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Raiders’ fans are something else, no doubt, but it’s still not quite the same thing as the “eat, sleep and drink college football” mentality that exists in East Tennessee.
If any two girls should be okay under such circumstances, it would be two with the kind of football-embedded DNA that Landry and Presley Kiffin have.
Their maternal grandfather, John Reaves, was an All-America quarterback at the University of Florida and played nine seasons in the NFL.
Their paternal grandfather, Monte Kiffin, played football at the University of Nebraska and after coaching the game for over 40 years he is currently one of the highest paid assistant coaches in the NFL.
Heck, their parents met when their mom was working for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their dad was a graduate assistant at Colorado State.
You get the point, the Kiffins know football. The problem is, they may not know much else.
That’s where Lane Kiffin has to prove himself, because being the football coach at the University of Tennessee is about more than just football. It’s also about a proud university, a unique region and a great state.
Phil Fulmer is both a Tennessean and a Volunteer, so serving as an ambassador for the state and the university came naturally to him. For Lane Kiffin the initial challenge of coaching at UT may be greater off the field than on it.
Winning press conferences and the trust of the fan base would be a nice preface to winning football games for Kiffin, who, at first, may have a hard time understanding that football is not a business in East Tennessee. It’s a way of life.
However, taking the reins of a storied program coming off one of its worst years in history will mean that Kiffin’s actions on the field will be under the finest of microscopes.
The first football question the ex-Raiders coach will have to answer is about who he will include in the entourage he brings with him to Knoxville.
Some speculate that Kiffin will lure his dad, who is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator, to Rocky Top to run the Vols’ defense, but given Monte Kiffin’s hefty assistant’s salary in Tampa Bay it’s more likely that former Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron would come on board. Orgeron coached at USC with Kiffin and it has long been rumored that he would reunite with Kiffin wherever he lands in the college ranks.
Beyond filling his staff there is laundry list of tasks awaiting Kiffin over the next eight months.
He’s got a couple dozen recruits that he’ll have to convince to hold their commitment to play football at UT, not to mention there are few key juniors like Rico McCoy and Dan Williams that he’ll need to convince to hang around for their senior year and help him launch UT into the Kiffin era.
Speaking of launching into the Kiffin era, there are a number of major UT donors who are still Fulmer loyalists that Kiffin would do well to win over in the next few months.
And there is one last thing. There is a little bit of a mess at the quarterback position for the Vols, he might need to work on that before next season.