MMA fans, you have been vindicated. And I’m not talking about the hardcore fans that actually understand and appreciate the sport. I’m talking about the bottom feeders in the mixed martial arts fanbase, the ones that get all liquored up in their Tapout gear and boo everything short of a disembowelment that takes place in the cage. You’re no longer the most embarrassing fans in sports. That mantle has now been taken over by fans of the University of Tennessee football team, who figured Lane Kiffin’s move from Knoxville to Los Angeles was a good reason for a riot. So much for the whole ‘Southern hospitality’ thing. Sweet tea and BBQ has been replaced by angry mobs and burning mattresses.
Full disclosure here to pre-empt the ‘stupid Yankee don’t know about football in the south’ comments that are sure to follow. My family lives in the south. I attended an SEC school with a huge football program. And, oddly enough, I even attended the University of Tennessee for summer school one year which was a very pleasant experience. If anyone suggests that there’s a higher level of college football played anywhere in the country than in the SEC, I laugh at them. You could probably read back through my bowl game write ups and get some idea of the reverence with which I hold SEC football.
When it comes right down to it, the riots in our country in the past twenty years or so haven’t been for particularly good reasons. While the outrage over the Rodney King beatings was certainly understandable, the L.A. riots became less of fomented racial discontent and more of an opportunistic looting spree after the first few hours. The WTO protests in Seattle were orchestrated by anti-capitalist groups and carried out by wanna-be anarchists, booze and drug addled homeless and the other sorts of human vermin that infest large west coast cities. With those exceptions, most riots in the US in our lifetime have been over sporting events (most often championship victories) or canceled rock concerts.
In the case of the UT/Kiffin riots, I just can’t see the outrage. It’s not like Kiffin had become the heart and soul of the program—he’d been there for a year cleaning up after Phil Fullmer left. As another article here at SportsUntapped noted in more detail, it wasn’t like he’d torn up the SEC conference in his year at Knoxville with a 7-6 record. It didn’t take a genius to see that it was a good ‘landing on your feet’ move after the rancorous end to his tenure with the Oakland Raiders. He had no ties to the school and certainly didn’t ‘bleed Vols orange’.
Now, I’m no Kiffin honk—he strikes me as something of a self serving arrogant prick. His comment to Gamecocks’ recruit Alshon Jeffries that he would “end up pumping gas for the rest of his life like all the other players from that state who had gone to South Carolina” just about sums up the kind of person he is. The best that can be said about him is that he’s got a hot wife (that’s her in the picture accompanying this article). Still, he’s got every right to make what has to be considered a great career move for himself and his hot wife family. He gets to take the reins of one of the highest profile programs in the country, has ties to both USC and Southern California and will very likely get a pay increase in the process.
As far as the sudden departure with Kiffin going from telling Vols’ fans that they’re ‘just getting started’ to packing up his office for the Beverly Hillbillies-like journey from Knoxville to Los Angeles—that’s just the nature of the business that is college football. No one really foresaw Pete Carroll finally heading to the NFL and when he did it set off a domino effect in college football that will continue for awhile. Some coach will bolt his gig at a lower profile school to take the job in Knoxville, and so on and so forth.
Historically, Tennessee coaches have served lengthy tenures by college football coaching standards. They’ve only had 21 coaches in the history of the program, and for a school that started playing football in the late 1980’s that’s saying something. The legendary Robert Neyland, now the namesake of the football stadium coached 21 years. The man considered the definitive UT coach of the modern era, Johnny Majors, coached 16 and Phil Fullmer did him one better with 17. It’s a different era now, not only in college sports but pro sports as well. There are more options for high profile football coaches in both college and pro coaching with assistant coaches and coordinators starting to pull down some serious bank in certain situations. Throw in the countless opportunities afforded by the sports media and there’s few coaches in football that couldn’t find another gig more potentially rewarding financially or professionally.
In other words, now more so than ever if you want a coach to hang around you’ve got to hire someone who’s roots in the program run deep. That was the case with both Fullmer and Majors who were both born and raised in Tennessee and played football at UT. The problem is that drastically reduces your pool of potential candidates not only in Knoxville but any program, and eliminates a lot of qualified coaches based on nothing more than linage. Alternately, you can hire a talented coach like Utah did with Urban Meyer or Cincinnati with Brian Kelly and just accept the fact that he’ll upgrade your program while he’s there but will eventually bolt for a higher profile gig.
All of which brings us back to Knoxville, where as of last night there were burning mattresses, angry mobs, spray painted rocks and numerous rambling YouTube videos calling Kiffin every name in the book. Knoxville police SWAT teams reportedly used tear gas in a few instances, but for most UT students it was an excuse to do some drinking and engage in some harmless mischief. Like MMA fans, it’s obvious that there’s only a small minority of UT fans that are expressing their displeasure in unacceptable ways. But this is how your program is judged. Your coaching search just got more difficult, since most top notch college football coaches aren’t anxious to face an angry mob. Nor is this an environment that is exactly welcoming to blue chip recruiting prospects.
Ultimately, this will almost certainly turn out to be a win/win for both Kiffin and the University of Tennessee. Kiffin can head back west to USC, where he has roots and an excellent coaching staff already coming together including Norm Chow returning as offensive coordinator. And the Tennessee Vols will hopefully now understand that their fanbase places a great emphasis on longevity and hire accordingly.Tweet
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