A former USC player is officially on board for a Lane Kiffin-Tennessee reunion.
Former Trojans wide receiver and FSN West commentator John Jackson told Dan Harrelson of Saturday Down South that Kiffin is his top choice top replace current head coach Butch Jones.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Lane Kiffin would be my choice as the next head coach at Tennessee,” Jackson said.
Kiffin, who left the Vols after one season to take same position at USC in 2010, is one of the most polarizing figures in college football, especially on Rocky Top. Fans burned couches and painted obscenities on the UT Rock in protest of his sudden departure. The Volunteer faithful also booed him unmercifully during his return to Neyland Stadium as Alabama’s offensive coordinator in 2014.
But perhaps some have softened up to the idea of a Kiffin return given the fanbase’s displeasure of Jones, who many believe will be fired at some point during or after the regular season.
“Everything in life is about timing,” Jackson told the website. “For Tennessee, the athletics director and the fans need to humble themselves and realize, ‘let’s go get the best guy that can turn this program around.’ Lane Kiffin is that guy.”
Jackson has interest in Tennessee’s potential coaching search as his son, John, is currently being recruited by the Vols for the 2018 national recruiting cycle. He’s also gotten to know Kiffin personally during the coach’s stint at Southern Cal.
“A lot of the perception about Lane is not true, and a lot of it is overblown,” Jackson said “At the end of the day, he knows what he is doing in building an organization. And he has been there and done that. And Tennessee is also a place where he would want to be.”
Kiffin, who’s currently in his first season at FAU, has led the Owls to a 3-0 record in Conference-USA play. The team also set a conference record for total yards last week (804) during a 69-31 victory over North Texas last week.
The prospect of former Tennessee and current Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin making his return to Knoxville seems like a long-shot, but is unquestionably an interesting scenario.
It’s fitting that Kiffin has dubbed FAU “Last Strike U” in regards to his players because it’s a similar situation for him as a head coach. There’s no denying that coaching the Owls is a far cry from his past positions, including his stint at Tennessee.
But so far, the polarizing coach has made the most of his “last strike” as FAU sits atop the Conference-USA standings and has even looked competitive during losses in “tune-up games.”
Honestly, I never imagined a scenario in which Kiffin would be a realistic candidate for any job at Tennessee as someone who lived through his departure as a UT student. But after going through Jones and Derek Dooley’s coaching stints, it’s clear that the biggest reason Tennessee fans lashed out during his departure was because they believed in a future with Kiffin as their head coach.
I was front and center on the “Lane Train” bandwagon when he was hired and was equally vocal against him after he left. But if — and that’s a huge if — he can show that he truly regrets his decision to leave, I wouldn’t be opposed to a return.
USC was Kiffin’s dream job and as much as I love UT, being a head coach in Los Angeles with a loaded Trojans team was more enticing than staying in Knoxville for a rebuilding process. He’s said that coaching under Nick Saban at Alabama has helped him mature and he’s learned from his past mistakes.
If that’s true, I’m all for at least considering him as a serious candidate, especially if the Jon Gruden and Chip Kelly rumors prove to be false.
I can’t speak for all of Volnation, but I would be willing to take back Kiffin if he’s the best candidate available.