The Tennessee Vols are in the midst of an NCAA investigation and they’re also looking for a new head coach.
The word “integrity” has been tossed around a lot over the last few days by the leadership at Tennessee. They want to hire a coach who does things the right way and doesn’t have a checkered past.
This seemingly rules out someone like Hugh Freeze, who was hit with a one-year show-cause at Ole Miss. Freeze also had some off-the-field issues (visiting sketchy massage parlors) that cost him his job in Oxford.
Freeze is a coach that a lot of UT fans covet, but I do not think he will be on the Vols’ radar in this search because of his past.
The other hot name that’s been mentioned a lot among fans is former Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin, who is now the head coach at Ole Miss.
Kiffin famously left UT in early 2010 to become the head coach at USC (his dream job). He was fired by the Trojans in 2013. He then landed at Alabama as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator, before becoming the head coach at Florida Atlantic for three seasons.
I can certainly understand why fans want Kiffin back at Tennessee. He’s a big personality, he’s a great offensive play-caller, and he knows how to recruit. Kiffin would instantly bring excitement back to Rocky Top.
Kiffin is definitely showing interest in the Tennessee job. He’s been working the phones trying to get on the Vols’ radar. Whether or not this interest is genuine or he’s just trying to get a raise at Ole Miss is anyone’s guess.
None of that actually matters too much. Kiffin can show as much interest as he wants, but if Tennessee doesn’t reciprocate that interest it’s all for naught.
There are several reasons that UT might not have Kiffin on their shortlist of potential coaches. For one, there are plenty of folks who have never got over the way Kiffin left Tennessee in 2010.
The bigger reason has to do with the NCAA issues that Kiffin left behind at Tennessee.
Kiffin wasn’t hit with a show-cause penalty, but the NCAA used some strong language in their report in 2011, saying that the former Vols head coach “failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance of NCAA rules”.
Kiffin and his staff committed 12 secondary violations during their short time at UT.
The violations including making impermissible phone calls to recruits, taking a visit to a high school with a recruiting intern who wasn’t allowed on recruiting trips, and the famous hostess program where members of the Orange Pride program illegally visited recruits.
Some of the other violations included Kiffin talking about a recruit by name during a radio interview, setting up a mock press conference at Neyland Stadium, and using a fog machine to simulate a game-day atmosphere on a recruiting visit.
Since leaving Tennessee, Kiffin has remained clean. He didn’t run into trouble with the NCAA at USC (which was facing sanctions at the time from the Pete Carroll era). And he didn’t have any issues at Florida Atlantic.
I think it’s reasonable to suggest that Kiffin knowingly tried to skirt the rules a bit during his time at Tennessee. But I think it’s clear he learned from that one season since he hasn’t had any NCAA issues since 2009.
But is that something UT can overlook?
It would be a hard sell. And I’m not sure the program would be willing to bring back a coach that was hit with a “failure to monitor” penalty to replace a coach that will likely be hit with a similar penalty.
If I had to bet, I’d wager that Kiffin will be at Ole Miss in 2021. I just can’t see Tennessee going down this road, even though they could if that’s what they wanted to do.
Everything on the UT side of things in this search is quiet. So there’s really no telling what path the Vols will take.
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