This fall, new Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will spend four months under the media's microscope. The one-time Boy Wonder has blown through so many jobs and ticked off so many people that any and all failures will make national news. Fair or not.
Those of us in the media are human. Most try and most succeed in being objective. But there's no denying that it's easier to write something positive about a coach or player that is friendly, likable. Likewise, it's awfully ease to hammer someone who's shown himself to be a jerk a time or two. Enter Kiffin.
At first he was a novelty. Young kid takes over the Oakland Raiders and all that. When he flamed out in less than two years and Al Davis called him a pathological liar in a bizarre press conference, Kiffin's halo dimmed. "Is he really the punk Davis says or is Davis just being Davis?"
By the time Kiffin landed at Tennessee to replace Phillip Fulmer, many had come to the conclusion that he was landing jobs based on the resume of his father, Monte Kiffin, who'd had many successful seasons as an NFL assistant. Either that or Kiffin the Younger was the world's best interviewee. Maybe a little of both.
In Knoxville, Kiffin spent his first 12 months talking, committing secondary NCAA violations, and committing secondary NCAA violations by talking. From telling a booster club that Florida's Urban Meyer cheated to dropping the name of then-star prospect Bryce Brown on a radio show, Kiffin's mouth became a constant topic on the ESPN's "Around the Horn," "Pardon the Interruption," and "SportsCenter." He claimed that Steve Spurrier had accused him of cheating just as he'd accused Meyer of missteps. (Spurrier hushed him on a Destin elevator with the media on hand for the SEC meetings watching/chuckling.) Kiffin supposedly told eventual South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery that he would wind up pumping gas for the rest of his life if he inked with the Gamecocks.
He signed safety Janzen Jackson to UT's roster and then looked the other way as the player had troubles on the field and off (just as the Kiffin's replacement, Derek Dooley, would do a year later). Jackson is currently in jail on murder charges.
Kiffin also allegedly sent female hostesses across state lines on a recruiting mission. And after questioning the officiating in a 12-10 loss to Alabama, ironically, Kiffin said he was sure he'd get a letter of reprimand from the SEC office, "but Florida and Alabama live on." The league responded by creating a new fine for coaches who complained publicly about officiating.
In 2009, Kiffin made enemies everywhere outside the Volunteer State... and then he became Public Enemy #1 there, too, when he surprisingly dumped Tennessee for the head coaching spot at Southern California after just one season and just a couple of weeks before National Signing Day 2010.
In LA, Kiffin said that he'd been over the top at Tennessee because the Vol program needed the attention. He would behave himself with the Trojans because that program needed no extra spotlight. But then he made news by offering a scholarship to a middle school quarterback. Then he had players switch jerseys during a game to throw off future opponents' scouting. Then a student-manager tried to give the Trojans an advantage versus Oregon by deflating the footballs used by USC. The manager said no one had told him to try to cheat, but very few believed him.
And then. And then. And then.
Kiffin became such a no-goodnik in the eyes of most media members that his every failure in Los Angeles -- and there were many -- was reported with glee. Any evidence that could clear his name was repressed. Look no further than his overall flame-out with the Trojans.
Fired midseason last fall, the big story was USC AD Pat Haden's decision to leave Kiffin at the airport. The Boy Wonder had gone 28-15 in three-and-a-half years with Southern California. He'd flopped at one of America's premier programs. Hardy-har-hars went up everywhere. But no one mentioned the fact that he'd basically been USC's version of Alabama's Mike Shula -- the guy who tried to keep the boat afloat while NCAA sanctions poured in. Kiffin lost 30 scholarships over the course of his tenure in Los Angeles. That would be considered a death blow to most programs. That part, however, was never mentioned in defense of Kiffin. He was canned with his team 3-2 last season. Ed Orgeron took over when Kiffin was canned and finished 6-2 the rest of the way. By year's end USC had fewer than 45 scholarship athletes available for bowl duty.
The fact that no one in the media -- to our knowledge -- tried to at least say, "yeah, but he was coaching half a team" suggests that Kiffin will get no breaks in Tuscaloosa this fall, either. In fact, just a few weeks ago Nick Saban's new aide talked up his running back trio by saying there's not a roster in the NFL with three better backs. One Sports Illustrated writer spun the story to suggest that Kiffin had insulted all NFL running backs. Uh, yes, that's exactly what he was doing.
Basically, Kiffin has made his bed and now he's going to have to lie in it. No one is going to want to give this guy a fair shake. At least not yet.
So this fall, be ready for CBS' or ESPN's cameras to zoom in on Bama's new offensive coordinator every single time Alabama turns the ball over. Every time a third-down call backfires, you'll see Kiffin. And when his offense -- with a rebuilt offensive line and a brand new quarterback -- takes the inevitable step back from last year's offensive numbers, you can count on Kiffin being called out as the reason.
Kiffin so flubbed his lines with Oakland and Tennessee that he was given no real leeway from the press covering his Southern California tenure. This fall, we expect more of the same. In fact, we believe Kiffin will be the single most scrutinized assistant football coach in the history of the Southeastern Conference. Part of that is a gimme -- there's more media and more social media than ever before. But Kiffin has also burned more bridges than he's built. Fans don't forget those kind of things. And many in the media -- even though we should -- don't forget 'em either.