September 30, 2013
The Snake Oil Salesman
As I’m waking up this morning and preparing my thoughts on the Tennessee vs South Alabama Game, I open my computer to look over the scores, especially the late night score (being on the East Coast) that I didn’t bother to watch…. USC vs Arizona State. Much to my amazement, USC was the loser! Or were they?
What was even more surprising was the same page contained a headline saying that The Weasel was fired in the middle of the night via phone call by Pat Haden, Athletic Director of USC, while Kiffin was mid-flight with his team to Los Angeles. The headline was surreal yet horrendously entertaining given the irony of how Vol fans and the state of Tennessee learned about the bottle of snake oil they had purchased manufactured by Lane Kiffin, Inc. The immediate image of the late night press conference in Knoxville as Lane, standing alone in the hallway, gathered his thoughts before telling the press he was leaving Tennessee after only 8 months tenure to pursue his dream job of Head Coach at the University of Southern California. What was clearly a questionable choice of hire by Tennessee Athletic Director Mike Hamilton to start, quickly careened into a nightmare propelling the Tennessee program into the depths of the SEC bowel.
Kiffin’s start at Tennessee seemed to please a lot of the Vol faithful as the new Head Coach brought some much needed moxy to the Tennessee program quickly taking aim at SEC attention hog Urban Meyer with bold statements about cheating and upcoming Florida losses. Just like that kid in your class or a friend of yours with an annoying boyfriend, you quickly realize the more words coming from them are complete shit. Vol fans grew uneasy hearing lane state that Tennessee was going to be the “USC of the south”, umm…. sorry Lane but we’re TENNESSEE!! Rumblings of NCAA investigations began to swirl, text messages began to be sent, and soon we found Mr. Kiffin packing for his dream job in LA and SoCal hacks like Jim Rome saying “welcome to the party!”.
Keeping in mind that his Head Coaching job in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders ended in complete turmoil as both he and Al Davis exchanged plenty of parting jabs and accusations. Football fans in general had grown weary of old man Davis’ rants and raves regarding football so naturally his comments about Lane Kiffin largely fell on deaf ears. Obviously, with hindsight being a brilliant 20/20, the monday morning quarterback at Tennessee realized that Al Davis spoke the truth and that Lane Kiffin was not only a liar but a cheater and would put a stain on the Tennessee Football program that may never be cleaned away or fully fade after decades of wear.
What Tennessee fans thought would be a few years of “rebuilding” our program suddenly turned into, what would surely be, a decade of “rebuilding” as we enter into our 5th year since Phillip Fulmer’s firing and usher in our 3rd head coach with Butch Jones. All thanks to Mike Hamilton buying a jar of Lane Kiffin, Inc.’s Snake Oil. The Lane Kiffin experiment not only sent Mike Hamilton packing, as he was still under the spell of the snake oil, after hiring Derek Dooley from Louisiana Tech who was both AD and Head Coach and on Tennessee’s list at #54 of possible coaches, but ruined Tennessee’s reputation as one of the best coaching jobs in the country to have. Coach after Coach said no and went on to other venues.
But I digress….
Just like someone who enters into their 2nd year of being divorced, that person begins to experience clarity in their previous mistakes and typically becomes thankful that the bad marriage was finally over and they can get on with their lives in a positive and productive manner. While the entire process is damaging emotionally and long in tooth to heal, it is still a process that all football programs experience time and time again. Unfortunately we just can’t all be great all the time.
So I offer this to USC fans out there, those frustrated that Kiffin was hired, those frustrated with his job performance, and those upset regarding the manner in his ultimate demise, I would personally call Arizona State and thank them for being that friend, painful as it may be and your reluctance to listen to those voices, that had the balls to tell you that you married and con artist!
December 3, 2017
You’d be hard-pressed to argue against the fact that the greatest unscripted reality television saga in all of sports, at this very moment is the University of Tennessee’s search for a new head coach for its football team.
But like great reality television program, the intrigue may involve the main characters you see on the screen, but it’s created and directed created by the people behind the scenes.
Regardless of what fans may think, former Athletic Director John Currie was not in control of the search for the team’s next head coach, from the very moment he was given the (supposedly) unchecked authority to hire someone (which was clearly a charade), through the moment he was unceremoniously fired from the position.
Phil Fulmer, Tennessee’s beloved Hall of Fame coach and new Athletic Director isn’t the one in, either. Fulmer might currently have risen to the position of AD this time around, but don’t forget that, as other outlets have reported, Fulmer was originally passed over for the position by “powers that be” in 2008, when the position became available after Dave Hart stepped down. If Fulmer was marginalized once, even after bringing the school a National Championship, there’s little reason to think that couldn’t happen again.
In actuality, the people who are actually orchestrating the Volunteers’ head coaching search are the cabals of very wealthy—and thus, very influential—donors to the program; in other words: the boosters. And because of a Hatfield’s vs. McCoy’s-esque battle for the ultimate control of the program, it has resulted in one of the most bungled and embarrassing coaching searches in college football history.
On one hand, there’s the Haslam clan, who have essentially positioned themselves as the royal family of the University of Tennessee. James Arthur Haslam II, known by many within the Tennessee community as “Big Jim,” is the founder of the Pilot Corporation (the nationwide chain of gas stations and convenience stores), and the patriarch of the clan; he’s singlehandedly donated tens of millions of dollars to the school over several decades. Haslam’s two sons are Bill and Jimmy; the former is the Governor of Tennessee, and the latter is the CEO of the Pilot Corporation, as well a former minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the owner of the Cleveland Browns.
If you want a glimpse at just how much influence they have in the Tennessee athletic program, consider the fact that when Fulmer was interviewing for the Athletic Director position, the final interview took place at the Tennessee governor’s mansion – where Bill Haslam lives. Two of four people interviewing Fulmer were Haslam’s: Bill, and “Big Jim” (along with Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning – who has become a Haslam-family ally – and University of Tennessee Chancellor Beverly Davenport). And it was the Haslam family that pulled the rug out from underneath Fulmer, when they gave the job to Currie, with full intention of making him a hollow puppet to whom they could dictate all important decisions about the program.
So the decision to make Currie the lead in the head coaching search was basically a power play by the Haslam family to not only control the entire process, but wrest it away from any of the other Tennessee’s influential boosters. And if one of Currie’s decisions backfired, it allowed the Haslam’s to make Currie the fall guy for it.
After all, while Currie took the brunt of the public vitriol in response to the decision, it was the Haslam family who essentially stronghanded Currie into offering the job to Greg Schiano, based on an edict from Jimmy Haslam. Haslam once wanted to hire Schiano as head coach of the Cleveland Browns back in 2014, but was talked out of the decision by members of the team’s front office (it’s also worth noting that he ended up firing those front office officials — Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi — later that year, when the Browns ended up going 7-9, which was their second-best record in a decade).
Given the unmitigated catastrophe that was the Schiano almost-hiring, coupled with the fact that Tennessee struck out with Mike Gundy, David Cutcliffe, Dave Doeren, and Jeff Brohm, it likely opened the door for the other faction of Tennessee’s other boosters to wrest back control of the search, as the program continued to have egg after egg cracked on its face.
There’s no way that Charles Ergen (CEO of Dish Network), Charlie Anderson (CEO of Anderson Media Corp), and Raja Jubran (CEO of Denark Construction), and the other highly-influential boosters could sit by and watch the Haslam’s, vis-à-vis John Currie, continue to exacerbate this mess. Their ace in the hole was Fulmer himself, who likely allied with said faction after he was originally snubbed and duped by the Haslam’s.
It’s very likely the rest of the Tennessee boosters made their move just as Currie was set to finalize a deal with Mike Leach, as a power play against the Haslam’s – even if, at some level, it was cutting the program’s nose to spite its face.
Leach, who nearly led Washington State University to a Pac-12 title this season, would have been very well received by Volunteer fans. His “Air Raid” offense would’ve been a welcomed sight to Tennessee fans, who spent too much of 2017 watching a completely lifeless offense under Butch Jones. Leach’s brash and swashbuckling ways would also have been the perfect foil to Tennessee’s #1 persona non grata in Nick Saban. Simply put: if Currie hired Leach, and if Leach turned out to be a success in Knoxville, it would put Currie – or more accurately, the Haslam’s – in a position of almost unmitigated power.
That’s the main reason why Currie was fired, literally hour before he almost saved this disastrous coaching search. The anti-Haslam faction was sick of the Haslam family trying to flex its muscles and belittle their fellow boosters, and they couldn’t afford to allow the Haslam’s power to grow. So they moved to replace Currie – the Haslam stooge who might’ve become the most hated man in the history of the athletic program – with Fulmer, knowing that there’s no way the Tennessee faithful would object to that move, and knowing that Fulmer would be far more sympathetic to the non-Haslam faction for finally giving him the opportunity he sought for years.
But as a fan of the program, you have to ask yourself: in the aftermath of this battle between multi-billionaires, what was ultimately accomplished? The Volunteers still don’t have a head coach, and the list of candidates is growing smaller and smaller. Kevin Sumlin has reportedly turned down overtures for the job. Tee Martin, who everyone presumed would jump at the opportunity to come back home and coach at Knoxville, is reportedly unhappy with the fact that his name was so far down the list, and essentially made the “we’ll hire him only after we strike out with everyone else option.” Whoever ends up taking the job may operate under the shadow of Fulmer, and under the dark cloud of the warring booster factions.
In other words: there might have been a short-term winner in the power struggle at the top of Tennessee’s food chain, but we still don’t know what is the collateral damage caused to the program from this process and may not see indications of it for years to come.
By The LakeVol Botch, Fulmer, Off The Cuff No comments Tags: Alabama, Alabama Crimson Tide, Athens Georgia, Beverly Davenport, Big Orange, Butch Jones, Charlie Ergen, Checker Neyland, College Football, Commodores, Crimson Tide, Dave Hart, Denver Broncos, Derek Dooley, Florida, Florida Gators, Gainsville Florida, Gamecocks, Georgia, Georgia Bulldogs, Jim Haslam, John Currie, Knoxville, Knoxville Tennessee, Mike Hamilton, Missouri Tigers, Neyland Stadium, Nick Saban, Peyton Manning, Phillip Fulmer, SEC, SEC Football, South Carolina, Tennessee, Tennessee Football, Tennessee Volunteers, Vanderbilt, Vols, Volunteers