Lane Kiffin has transformed from a Vol villain to someone that some Vol fans would actually welcome back into town. And as a one-time Tennessee head coach (albeit very briefly), Kiffin has his fair share of opinions about the Vols. And he shared some of those on Monday afternoon.
Right now, Kiffin is the head coach of Florida Atlantic. He has the Owls on a four-game winning streak and sitting atop the Conference USA standings. Kiffin has been a head coach for the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee, and USC. He was also the offensive coordinator for Alabama prior to taking the job at FAU.
He infamously left Tennessee after just one season to coach USC. Many Vol fans detested him at the time for that, but stances on him from some fans have softened in the passing years.
Kiffin appeared on the Tony Basilio show in Knoxville on Monday afternoon, and Basilio asked him a round of questions about his time at Tennessee, his thoughts on the current situation in Knoxville, and how he views the Tennessee football program as a whole.
Kiffin was first asked about his time at Tennessee and why he was so bold and brash with some of his comments when he first arrived.
“We wanted people to know were weren’t afraid of anybody,” Kiffin said after pointing out that Tennessee’s rivals had started to blow them out in the years prior to his arrival. “We respect you, but we aren’t afraid of you. I said those things so those players in the locker room and those fans would realize ‘wait, we really can beat these guys, we’re not afraid of these guys.'”
He would go on to add that the NCAA issues during his time at Tennessee were “overblown.” He was also asked about his decision to leave Tennessee after just one season. And he said he regrets how it happened.
“That place was like home to us,” Kiffin said of California. He mentioned that he had spent six years there prior to taking the Tennessee job and that all three of his children were born there. “That was the one place I would’ve left for. But we didn’t know there was going to be 30 scholarships (taken away), a two year bowl ban, all our juniors and seniors could leave. We didn’t know any of that.
“We were told a few scholarships at most, otherwise it was no big deal. That changed the game. But you can’t really go back and look and say ‘what if.'”
Now with Tennessee’s season in a nose dive and head coach Butch Jones believed to be nothing more than a lame duck head coach, some Vol fans have expressed that they would want Kiffin back as head coach whenever the job is available. But Kiffin didn’t take the bait when asked about that.
“We’re focused on the season here,” Kiffin stated. “You guys have a bunch of big games left, and things happen all the time. People turn things around.
“Coach Jones gets on a roll here for a couple games, and everybody will change quick. It just happened at LSU a couple weeks ago.”
Basilio and his co-host laughed at the notion that Jones and the Vols could turn around this season, to which Kiffin chuckled and replied with, “You gotta believe, come on!”
Despite the situation Tennessee is in now, however, Kiffin does believe the Vols aren’t that far away from being back in the thick of things in the SEC and nationally.
“Tennessee’s not that far off,” he said. “It was only two years ago that (Alabama) went down to the wire with (Tennessee). Coach Jones had them rolling last year early on. They got some big wins.
“They’re not as far off as I think some people talk about. They can definitely win.”
Kiffin likened Tennessee’s current situation to what Alabama was going through a decade ago before they hired Nick Saban. And he believes the Vols will eventually get “back.”
“They were having the same conversations on the radio at Alabama 10 years ago,” Kiffin said. “‘Are we relevant anymore? We’ve been down a while.’ Then you hire Coach Saban and everything has changed.
(Tennessee) will be back; it’s just a matter of time and when.”