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The Kiffin Conundrum

Is Lane Kiffin a buffoon or is he just an impish bad boy?

Is he capable of saying the right thing on occasion, or is everything he says best taken as a verbal fumble?

Depends on who you ask.

Kiffin spoke yesterday at a Chick-fil-A Bowl event in Atlanta.  Among his comments, he said that SEC schools have turned Tennessee in for a number of potential secondary violations that turned out NOT to be secondary violations.  (Which is probably why it’s best to turn things into the league rather than accusing rival coaches in public, eh?.)

He said his comments about an NCAA investigation being a “compliment” were taken out of context.  And he threw out a joke making fun of himself.

When asked about the challenges he faces coaching in this era, he said, “Following the rules.”  Laughs all around.

“I felt like you guys were getting bored out there.  (Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and I) were answering everything politically correct, so I gave you guys something.  I know you guys have a long offseason and you guys need something to talk about, so I was trying to help you.  But I’m getting better.”

Austin Ward of The Knoxville News Sentinel was in the room and he feels that Kiffin is learning how to better deal with the media.  In his view, the presser showed that Kiffin is improving his public persona.

So how did others view Kiffin’s performance?

The headline of the AP story which ran in The Athens Banner-Herald read: “Kiffin Jokes About Rules Issues.”

Jeff Schultz of The AJC was in attendance and here’s what he thought of Kiffin’s joke:  “I’ll say this for Kiffin: Most folks who devolve into a human punch line every 17 minutes eventually learn their lesson and know when to hit the mental mute button.  Kiffin soaks it all in and wears the target proudly, like a new tan.”

So is Kiffin capable of saying the right thing and poking a little fun at himself on occasion?

Or is he a mustache-twirling, villainous bungler who is incapable of ever making a right move?

Clearly, that would depend on whether or not you’re writing for Tennessee fans or writing for fans of another SEC school.

My take: Like most things in life the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. 

Tennessee fans are wrong to think everything their coach has done has been calculated and that’s he’s batting a thousand when it comes to decision-making.

At the same time, he hasn’t failed at every turn as some non-Volunteer fans would like to believe, either. 

But as we wrote last week, Kiffin has turned himself into a lightning rod with his early comments and deeds.  He will be either loved or hated.  There is no middle ground.  And for that reason, when it comes to sports columnists, there’s no better topic than Tennessee’s head coach.


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