On This Day in SEC History, Dec. 1: Lane Kiffin on Rocky Top
On this day 15 years ago, Tennessee hired Lane Kiffin as its head football coach, marking a tenure that would be over in just a few short months.
Kiffin was the first new coach for the Vols in 15 years. Phillip Fulmer had led Tennessee from 1993 to 2008, winning a national championship in 1998. Fulmer was dismissed in 2008 after a 5-7 finish.
— Lane Kiffin (@Lane_Kiffin) December 1, 2023
Tennessee hired Kiffin, a promising young talent at the time, after he led Oakland Raiders from 2007 to 2008. With his hiring, Kiffin became the youngest FBS head coach at just 33 years old. Kiffin signed a 6-year deal, earning him $2 million for the 2009 season with additional performance bonuses.
His tenure at Tennessee is perhaps more remembered for what happened off the field than what happened on it. Before he even coached his first game, Kiffin faced controversy after accusing Florida coach Urban Meyer of committing NCAA violations during a Tennessee booster breakfast.
He also faced further controversy after telling wide receiver prospect Alshon Jeffery that if he signed with South Carolina, “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.” Jeffery went to South Carolina, and went on to have a successful NFL career.
Kiffin led the Vols to a mediocre 7-6 record in his sole season as head coach, an improvement from the previous season’s record of 5-7. Tennessee lost its bowl game in blowout fashion to Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-a Bowl.
His departure from Tennessee came just a little more than a year after his hiring. On Jan. 12, 2010, Kiffin left to take over as head coach at USC, after Pete Carroll left to coach the Seattle Seahawks.
Kiffin’s departure sparked outrage from students and fans, prompting small riots on campus. The Knoxville police and fire departments were called onto the scene after students blocked the exit of the Neyland Thompson Sports Center and started small fires.
A dark moment in Vols’ history, Tennessee now gets to see its former head coach every now and then as Kiffin coaches at Ole Miss. The departure has worked out well for both parties, ultimately. Kiffin is thriving as the Rebels’ head coach and Tennessee has a solid coach in Josh Heupel.
There will always be a fun rivalry whenever the Vols faceoff against Kiffin.