KNOXVILLE — On Aug. 23, 1985, Doug Dickey returned to Tennessee to become the Volunteers’ athletics director.

Dickey, then 53, was not simply replacing outgoing AD Bob Woodruff, who had hit the state’s mandatory retirement age of 70, he also was returning to Tennessee after he left Rocky Top for rival Florida.

Dickey, who as head coach from 1964-1969 led the Vols to the 1967 national championship and SEC titles in 1967 and 1969, left following a Gator Bowl loss to Florida.

He left for his dream job. Yes, to the school he had just coached against in a bowl game. Dickey left Woodruff, who was AD from 1963-85 and hired Dickey as coach in 1964.

Woodruff played tackle at Tennessee from 1936-38 and recruited Dickey to play for him when he was the head coach at Florida from 1950-59.

Dickey’s departure parallels Lane Kiffin’s 2009 departure from the Vols as head coach for his dream job at USC. Like Dickey, Kiffin should be welcomed if he ever returns to Rocky Top as head coach.

Could it happen? Why not? Three other prominent head coaches have left and returned. It’s uncommon, but not unprecedented.

Three coaches who went back …

Coach
School
1st time
2nd time
Bobby Petrino
Louisville
31-9 (2003-06)
30-16 (2014-present)
Randy Edsall
UConn
70-63 (2000-10)
2-4 (2017)
Mike Price
UTEP
48-61 (2004-12)
0-2 (2017)

Ahead of the 100th meeting between Alabama and Tennessee, ESPN’s Chris Low discussed how he thinks the 42-year-old Kiffin “would crawl back to Knoxville” and would do so “in a heartbeat” if given another opportunity to coach Tennessee.

The problem that surrounds a Kiffin return is that some still are not over him leaving Tennessee after only 14 months on the job and just weeks before national signing day.

The anger that some still have toward Kiffin is warranted. But given the displeasure currently resonating through the fan base, some Big Orange faithful are entertaining the thought of forgiving and forgetting.

Make no mistake about it, Kiffin should only be considered if first-year athletics director John Currie can’t make a home run hire. Kiffin should be behind Jon Gruden and Chip Kelly on Currie’s list.

Kiffin could erase any displeasure that hangs over him, like Dickey did upon his return.

Dickey knew there were still fans, alumni and boosters who were angry at him for leaving for Florida, but he made amends.

“I don’t think those people would say anything to me personally,” Dickey said when he returned to Tennessee in 1985. “Anyway, I’ve had a great response from everybody. It’s been very heartwarming. Come on over. The door’s open and we’ll talk about it.”

Dickey’s open door policy could work for Kiffin. After all, the current Florida Atlantic coach felt sincere enough to say goodbye when he left in January 2010, an uncommon move when head coaches leave for other jobs.

With all of the speculation about moving on from fifth-year head coach Butch Jones, Currie faces a crossroads with the football program. He has the opportunity to bring in home run hires, and if he is unable to connect, Kiffin should be given the same second-chance opportunity that the university provided Dickey.

Dickey went on to be athletics director from 1985-2002, providing leadership during a successful time that saw five SEC championships and the 1998 national championship.

Kiffin could help Tennessee rebound, quickly, and shift the power of the SEC East back to Knoxville.