Football flights: Lane Kiffin speaks on infamous Tennessee departure


What a trip it’s been for Lane Kiffin. From a young coordinator at USC to an NFL head coach, to the Tennessee head coach, to the USC head coach and back to the varsity coordinator – Kiffin has seen it all.

And to his credit, he has hit rock bottom and fared for the best.

Kiffin entered the Alabama Coaching Rehab Center under Nick Saban’s direction and was very successful before his bizarre exit in the college football playoffs. This led to the Atlanta concert in Florida, allowing him to recover as a head coach. Now he appears to be in an ideal position with Ole Miss, hoping his high-scoring mark can bring the Rebels back to relevance.

However, around these parts you can’t discuss Lane Kiffin without going back to this moment. You know the one where he left Tennessee in January to take his dream job at USC. The one who apparently sent the Tennessee football program to the dumpster to stay there for the next decade.

Kiffin had just finished a respectable season in Knoxville, going 7-6 overall. The show was showing a lot of signs of life, but it was all called off with a late-night press conference announcing that Kiffin was returning home.

This week, Kiffin discussed the move with USA Today, again claiming that USC was the only school that pushed him to take such a step.

“It’s not like I’m in Tennessee telling myself ‘OK, there are 20 better jobs, and when one opens, I go,'” Kiffin said. “If you’re in Tennessee, outside of USC, because of how special it was to me, I don’t know where you would go.”

You know the rest. Tennessee was forced to make a rental after the coaching carousel stopped spinning, which ended up being Derek Dooley. Dooley lasted for three seasons, finishing with a score of 15-21 overall. It turned into Butch Jones, then Jeremy Pruitt – both ending in disaster.

Kiffin hasn’t shone too much at USC after Dooley, going 28-15 in just over three full seasons. How would things have ended in Tennessee if he had stayed? That’s a question I’d really love to know the answer to, given his success as a freshman in Knoxville. Was he mature enough for this big job at the time? Probably not. But his offensive success still speaks for itself. Even if he doesn’t work long-term in Tennessee, just avoiding the forced hiring of Dooley probably puts the program in a better place today, but who really knows?

Kiffin has mended his relationship with Tennessee fans over the years, showing a lot of support for the Flights where possible on Twitter. We’ve come a long way since his first appearance at Neyland Stadium, and now he’s set to make another visit this season.

Tennessee and Ole Miss will play on Saturday, October 16 in Knoxville.