Lane Kiffin sheds baggage but not perception
Lane Kiffin has been cleared by the NCAA of any major violations committed during his short term as Vols head football coach. Finalizing an investigation of the Tennessee Athletic Department, the committee found that Kiffin and his staff committed several minor infractions, but evidence was insufficient for anything severe.
The announcement concludes a one-year probe, which resulted in the termination of head basketball coach Bruce Pearl and a ‘show-cause’ attached to any future job search. It was anticipated that both Kiffin and Ed Orgeron would receive a similar penalty or at least restrictions to off-campus recruiting. Those penalties would have been a carry-over, following the pair to USC, and further crippling a football program already knocked to its knees by sanctions.
“I’m pleased that the NCAA based its decision on the facts and not on perception.”–Lane Kiffin
Perception is the key to everything, which is why so many will be dissatisfied with the committee’s findings. Kiffin is perceived as a rebel, a rogue coach turning a blind eye to rule infractions in order to gain a competitive advantage. In the public eye, every forbidden act is major, even when minor in nature, and neither is worthy of reprieve.
The SEC perception of Kiffin is that of a man that speaks arrogance with each word and lacks respect for those superior. You don’t walk into the SEC and call out coaches. You don’t inherit a losing program and flex your muscles like a champion. You don’t accept a job in the nation’s elite conference only to leave after a year. It was a long list of ‘don’ts’ and the incoming rebel checked each box.
If you had discussions with anyone in the southeast over the last two years, then you’ve learned that Lane Kiffin is the root of all evil. He is the man behind global disasters, terror attacks and double-dip recession. The word ‘minor’ is nonexistent in the Kiffin world, where every act is severe, and each triggers a ripple effect that sweeps across the planet.
The expectation of an incoming SEC coach is to bow down to those established and flaunting championship jewels. You enter tongue tied and with swallowed pride. It’s the conference where a coach gains instant stardom upon entry, and couches burn in the street as a result of disapproved departure.
Kiffin was no more arrogant in the SEC than Jim Harbaugh was in the Pac 10. The difference being that there was no demand that Stanford’s coach respect Pete Carroll, and was even applauded by some for his cockiness and confidence while rebuilding a program. But in some unwritten rule of respect, Tennessee’s new coach was to bow down to Meyer, Saban, Spurrier and others. He was to settle into his inferior space and not put up a fight.
When disobedience intensifies the focus, a molehill will grow to a mountain. So as Kiffin committed minor infractions before a quick departure, it was Mount Everest that stood as the obstacle between himself and a negative public perception.
If Florida isn’t winning national championships, the biggest story in Gainesville is multiple arrests. Auburn, during a national title run, was investigated for a $180,000 pay-for-play scandal involving its Heisman Trophy quarterback. Tuscaloosa has suddenly become the place for suits at discount prices, if your name appears on the football roster and is scribbled across memorabilia for sale. And Baton Rouge, like Eugene Oregon, is probed for an alleged cash trade agreement with Willie Lyles, which in turn delivers recruits.
Still, God hates Lane Kiffin, being that the Southern God trumps all others in college football. With investigations still pending, mobs moved passed Chizik, Saban, and Miles, giving Kiffin pitchfork priority, and hoping the NCAA would deliver his head on a stake.
A Southern Belle in an $80 dress is a greater offense than a bagman carrying tens of thousands in riches. An impermissible off-campus visit or phone call is more disastrous than a visit to a clothier or his invitations to party. Coaches and programs do little wrong, as long as Kiffin and his arrogance does nothing right.
SEC baggage that weighed heavy on Kiffin for the past year has now been shed, but public perception never will be. Success will only increase hate, where failure results in finger pointing and “I told you so”. Because when it comes to image, the greatest violation is a forked tongue. It is a one-liner directed at a multi-million dollar coach with a superiority complex. It’s choosing to voluntarily leave a league that takes pride in throwing you out on your ass. There is no ‘dream job’ outside the region, so there is no ‘grass is greener’ enticement. It’s the SEC , where a program gives up on you, and you don’t dare give up on it.
The NCAA has left the campus, and USC can finally move on. But Kiffin will still coach beneath the black hat. He is forever the outlaw, scapegoat, and root of your problems. And though my perception of the SEC and its witch hunt of a former coach may differ from yours and ultimately be wrong, it only serves as another example of how perception works—or doesn’t.
Reality is nothing, perception is everything.