By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the story.
Three University of Tennessee football players — all of them true freshmen — were arrested on charges of attempted armed robbery outside of a Pilot convenience store in Knoxville last week. They allegedly accosted two people in their car, waved a gun in their faces and asked for their money. The alleged victims had no money to give them, so the three suspects — wearing hooded sweatshirts — fled. When police caught up to them, they found a gun and hooded sweatshirts, along with pot and pot accessories. All three were arrested and later released on bond.
Now before I go any further, let’s remind ourselves that Janzen Jackson, Nu’Keese Richardson and Mike Edwards have yet to be convicted of any crime. Maybe they were home studying for a chemistry final. Maybe they went to that convenience store to purchase Pemmican jerky and frozen Pepsi, paid their tabs and left before three other strapping young men came behind them and robbed these guys. I don’t know and I don’t care.
This column isn’t about Janzen Jackson, Nu’Keese Richardson or Mike Edwards. If those three idiots were stupid enough to allegedly shove a gun in a guy's face and demand his money, that’s their problem. If they are so desperate to throw away their careers and futures for the sake of a stranger’s empty wallet, more power to them. Again, this column isn’t about them.
If you take a cross-section of my columns over the past year and break them down by subject matter, the vast majority of them are football-related. And of those football-related columns, the vast majority of those are college football-related. And of those college football-related columns, many of them are in some way connected to my well-known distaste for Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Hoop hates Tennessee, Hoop has an Ahab-like obsession with slamming Lane Kiffin, Hoop has no credibility. Two, maybe three of those things are true. To be completely honest with you, I was beginning to think that Kiffin was well ahead of the curve at Tennessee, at least as far as X’s and O’s are concerned. Now, how much of their success should be credited to Papa Kiffin? Well, a lot. But hey, for a while there Lil’ Kiff had Jonathan Crompton making difficult throws look easy, which is kind of like teaching a bird how to talk. It’s not a miracle, but it seems like one when the little guy finally completes a sentence.
I began to ask myself: Was I wrong about this guy? Was I being premature in calling him the worst hire in the modern era of SEC football? Was I wrong to call him a bum not once, not twice, but thrice? There was doubt. Rather, there was doubt. Until last Thursday. And then the rationale reappeared. The reasoning crested above flood stage in my brain. I wasn’t wrong about this guy. He is the worst hire in the modern era of SEC football. And for the fourth time, he’s a bum.
I want you to step back and appreciate the rich, positively decadent irony that surrounds this story. The day before these guys were arrested, Kiffin bragged to the media that none of his players had ever gotten into trouble with the law. (By the way, I hope these guys are theater majors, because they have a knack for dramatic timing that you just can’t teach.) Also, remember when Lil’ Kiff told the booster club that Urban Meyer cheated to recruit one of his signees and that the kid still signed with Tennessee? That kid was Nu’Keese Richardson. (Which proves that cheaters do occasionally win.) And beyond the delicious, delicious irony, the police report itself paints a pretty pathetic scene. One of the victims is a white guy named Zickefoose, for God’s sake. They allegedly held him up with a pellet gun. Then they allegedly fled the scene in a Toyota Prius. One of them was wearing Tennessee-issued football gear at the time. My God, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say the boys from Office Space were behind this. But enough about those three bozos. Again, this isn’t about them.
You wanna to know why Lane Kiffin is the worst hire in the modern era of SEC football? You wanna know why he’s a bum? I’ll tell you why. Because he’s Mike Shula 2.0. That is, he’s Mike Shula, but with an undeserved sense of accomplishment. And Mike Shula was the worst SEC hire I could think of.
We’ve been down this road before, but let’s again consider the similarities. Why did Mike Shula get the Alabama job? Because his daddy’s a football genius. Why did Lane Kiffin get the Tennessee job? In some way I’m sure it’s because his daddy is a football genius. (Don’t believe me? You want to go over/under on how far the interview proceeded before Monte Kiffin’s name was brought up?) They also share the same deer-in-the-head-lights stare. Same shaky, rambling recitations in front of the microphone. And, apparently, same non-emphasis on discipline.
Lane Kiffin is operating the same ponzi scheme that Shula got away with for four years. He, too, is straight out of that NFL mindset; the mindset that assumes players are not boys, but grown men. Professionals. On the occasion that these men get into trouble, the league fines them and everybody moves on. That’s not the way it is in college. Whereas the NFL is like Mother’s Day Out, college is full-on parenting. And the best parents are usually the ones who dole out discipline and set boundaries. The ones who set themselves up as authority figures, not buddies.
Lane Kiffin has spent his entire tenure as Tennessee’s head football coach trying to be a cool dad. He’s running around shirtless, talking smack to rivals and hyping his newfound rap cred. Kids dig that; kids are drawn to that. That’s why he’s had so much success landing big-time recruits. But you know who else reeled in big-time recruits?
Each year on signing day, we looked at Mike Shula’s classes and thought, “Wow, he may be the Dan Quayle of football coaches, but look at those Rivals’ rankings! The man’s gettin’ it done.” At the time, no one knew he was pulling in the lowest common denominators of our society to play football at Alabama. Many of them ended up academically ineligible or criminally responsible for one thing or another. One of them, Jimmy Johns, was dealing cocaine in the parking lot at the football complex, for heaven’s sake.
Lane Kiffin has created a media sensation by landing big-time recruits. And for now, he and the Tennessee fan base seem satisfied with that. But it’s a red herring. Because unless he baptizes those new faces with discipline and establishes himself as the new authority figure in their lives, success will be sporadic, just as it was for Mike Shula. As for me, I don’t think Lane Kiffin is capable of doing those things. He’s too immature to discipline himself, much less an entire football team.
This weekend I got to thinking about Kansas State football. I know it seems odd, but I have a girlfriend who graduated from Kansas State who gives me near-daily updates on the goings-on of Wildcat athletics. Like UT, Kansas State also made a coaching hire before this season, coaxing Bill Snyder (their 70-year-old former coach) out of retirement to clean up after the tragic Ron Prince era. Why did they re-hire the old guy? Well, according to my source, Snyder kept a tight ship during his first tenure as head coach. He personally made sure that his players were (generally) well-behaved and well-attired. Snyder was nearly omnipresent, to the degree that he often ate breakfast, lunch and dinner with the team. Obviously, the Kansas State administration sensed that what the football team had lost under Prince was a sense of order and discipline and that Snyder, a proven disciplinarian, was capable of re-establishing that. The result: after four losing seasons in five years, KSU is one win away from a bowl invite.
I’m not saying that age has anything to do with this. I’m not suggesting that UT should have gone the Kansas State route and picked up a septuagenarian to lead their football team. Many folks have made the argument that Lane Kiffin is too young to be an effective head coach at this level and I’ve always disagreed. There are plenty of 34-year-old men and women who are wise beyond their years, who are inwardly and outwardly disciplined, and who are genuine leaders and authority figures. The world is teeming with them. Unfortunately for UT administrators, players and fans, Lane Kiffin is not one of them. He is insufferably arrogant, tactless, petulant, petty and without a trace of restraint or self-discipline. And he’s the defacto father figure for 85 impressionable young men, including three who might have one heckuva criminal rap sheet before the month is over.
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