Saturday Morning Quarterback

Saban’s newest hire adds too much spice to Bama-UT rivalry
Jan 11, 2014

 

 

While most of the football-loving world is watching the James Franklin coaching cliffhanger – will he stay at Vanderbilt or go to Penn State? – or wondering who will be the Titans’ next coach, a vacancy was being filled at one of those schools to the south.

Alabama came to terms with former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin for the offensive coordinator’s position.

I suspect most people who like the Tide and respect coach Nick Saban are saying, “Say it ain’t so, Nick!”

On the other side, some hard-core Tennessee fans probably don’t mind Kiffin ending up as the Crimson Tide’s offensive play-caller. It’s one more reason to hate Alabama.

Kiffin shot up and left Steve Spurrier well in the dust as most despised man in Tennessee the night he abruptly left Knoxville for the Southern Cal job. Riots ensued on Rocky Top and one person, who I’m sure would never otherwise say such a thing, told me he hoped Kiffin’s house would burn down.

Since then, Vol Nation watched as NCAA violations from Kiffin’s brief reign of smirkness began to surface. UT fans became glad he was gone and were upset he ever cursed the interior of our state.

The biggest highlight of UT’s season just past came when USC athletic director Pat Haden fired Kiffin on the tarmac of LAX after the Trojans returned to Los Angeles after a loss. It was a great reason to party in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

People who are going through great trials and tribulations – bankruptcy, house catching on fire, water pipes busting, kidney stones, plagues of locusts, disease, IRS audits – might wail, “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”

UT fans make an exception for Lane Kiffin. Nothing too bad can happen to him.

If Spurrier ran for governor against Kiffin, Coach Superior would win in a landslide, though voter turnout might be less than the 100,000 who can pack into Neyland as fans/voters would stay home in protest of no quality candidate.

Now Kiffin will return to Neyland Stadium nine months from now on what used to be the Third Saturday In October.

Chances are, he’ll be ensconced in the coaches booth upstairs. But what if he decides, or is told, to work from the sideline.

Can you imagine the boos and heckles that will emanate from the stands. He may need to wear a disguise, be sneaked into the stadium through the service entrance, have Secret Security protection, ride in the bullet-proof Popemobile.

Saban hired him even though Kiffin visited Tuscaloosa during bowl preparations, and then the Crimson Tide lost to Oklahoma. He’s bad karma.

Besides, the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry, with the possible exception of some Tide fans getting in an uproar over Philip Fulmer ratting out a booster to the NCAA, has been built on respect. It’s always been hard-fought, but the hard hits have come on the football field, not below the belt in the media. Fans of one may say they hate the other, but by and large they really don’t. UT fans loved and admired Bear Bryant almost as much as Alabamans [well, maybe not, as most of us in the Volunteer State didn’t worship the man in the houndstooth hat].

Having Kiffin on staff threatens to deflect deserved attention from every other player and coach to whom the rivalry means something, everything. I’m not sure what or who Kiffin is loyal to.

The media circus will bring hype and increased attention to the game. But this game has never needed extra hype. When both teams are good, and even when they’re not, Alabama vs. Tennessee is all the promotion that’s needed. Every seat will be sold and millions more will watch on television.

There are dozens of better coaches out there who would love to have added “Nick Saban assistant” to their resumes. Wish he had checked them out.

Oh well. At least Kiffin won’t be available to Vanderbilt when James Franklin leaves for Happy Valley.

 

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