Beginning this week, Roll Bama Roll will be examining the Lane Kiffin track record: coaching results, offensive philosophy and -importantly, recruiting results (or misses). The first few installations will cover Kiffin's short stint with the Volunteers, beginning today with recruiting. Yes, my friends, we are now deep in the offseason.
Kiffin's one class at Tennessee -on paper, seemed to be a success if star ratings and class rankings were to be believed. 2009 saw the Vols sign 22 guys, most highly regarded, and highlighted by allegedly can't miss guys like Janzen Jackson, Nu'Keese Richardson, Bryce Brown and David Oku. Bolstered by one of the best incoming RB classes, Tennessee had a Top 10 recruiting class -good for 4th in the conference behind only Alabama, LSU and Georgia.
However, real life gets in the way of lovely narratives. There is no way to describe that 2009 Volunteers class as anything other than an unmitigated, Ryan Leafian sort of disaster.
Much-hyped RB Bryce Brown played one season, then quit. David Oku lasted two seasons before also quitting. The pair combined for less than 1,000 yards.
LB Jerod Askew redshirted and then was kicked off the team.
WR James Green was an academic casualty
The oft-arrested DB, Darren Myles, was kicked off the team before his sophomore season -for another arrest.
Janzen Jackson's well-documented scrapes with the law, and many dreaded “violation of team rules,” saw the CB's promising career derailed
Nu'Keese Richardson, another promising kid at WR, was one of the infamous Pilot pellet gun robbers, and he was likewise kicked off the squad.
While many of the dismissals that would occur in 2010 and 2011 were the product of a change in the coaching staff -and Dooley's notoriously player-unfriendly style, the simple fact remains that Kiffin's lone class, albeit long on talent and potential, was rife with headcases, criminals, academic casualties the oft-injured, busts and kids who just couldn't crack the depth chart.
Ignoring the eventual fate of the '09 disaster, we'd be remiss if we omitted the gaffes and missteps which seemed to define Kiffin's UT stint. Notable was the infamous Alshon Jeffrey-gas-pumping incident; a comment that was denied by Kiffin. There was also the Pahokee-fax-incident, which saw Kiffin accuse Urban Meyer and school officials of cheating and the Volunteers' staff become persona non grata at one of Florida's premier talent spots -not to mention, insulting an entire town. Who too can forget that Da Coach O also famously went Farmer Fran with his shirtless “UT Wild Boys.” Then, there was the “hostess scandal,” which saw the Vols collect no fewer than six secondary NCAA infractions. But, of all the lowlights in recruiting, perhaps none was more troubling than the relationship his staff had with “street agent-cum-talent-scout” Willie Lyles -a relationship which led to more NCAA sanctions. It was such a bizarre recruiting cycle, with Kiffin's impolitic style so ostracizing the old guard, that his very name became a Weezy rap lyric.
This isn't, to use an old trope around here, “another RBR hit piece;” the facts are what they are. Kiffin hired an energetic staff of excellent recruiters -Gran, Orgeron, Thompson, Chaney among them. The class that entered appeared to be excellent, at least good enough to return the Vols to their power running dynasty of years past. Those players never panned out, however, and Tennessee is still feeling the effects of those truly bad classes in 2008 and 2009.
While I am on the record as a Kiffin fan, and believe that he can do good things at the Capstone, the lone Tennessee season is more than enough to give one pause going forward, and certainly is fresh enough in the Alabama staffs' collective memory. Let's hope that 2009 was an outlier; a time when Kiffin et al were attempting to put an energetic face on a stagnant program and not the status quo -even if the attempt failed. Still, you have to believe that Saban will not give Kiffin any sort of leash on the recruiting trail or permit him to become the face of any phase of the program (and, for once, I am grateful that he muzzles the assistants.)
Later this week: The Tennessee offense under Coach Kiffin.