Jan. 13, 2010
BY DREW EDWARDS
Athletic director Mike Hamilton described Lane Kiffin's tenure at Tennessee with a single word - brief.
Now he's hoping the same applies to his search for a new head coach.
Hamilton met with reporters Wednesday afternoon to discuss Kiffin's departure and the ongoing search. And although the Vols are looking for a head football coach for the second time in 14 months, the job description hasn't changed much, Hamilton said.
"We're always going to want someone who understands the complexities of recruiting nationally, who understands the complexities of operating in a bureaucratic state environment in some ways some days and who understands what it takes to compete in our league," said Hamilton, who only slept for about an hour after arriving in Knoxville from a meeting in Denver at about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. "That doesn't necessarily mean they had to compete in our league, but they understand the complexities of trying to be successful in the Southeastern Conference. We want someone that can be a leader of men and educate these young men in their efforts not only on the field but off the field and those kinds of things."
Previous experience as a head coach won't be a sticking point, and Hamilton said Tennessee will hire a coach and not enter the season with an interim coach.
Timing is key, and in this case, the timing is pretty lousy.
With National Signing Day only three weeks away, the Vols want to have a new coach in place by the time the NCAA dead period for recruiting ends on Sunday.
"The timing is critical," Hamilton said. "If you're going to choose when to have something like this happen, this is not the time.
"For us in particular, we're worried about the immediacy of the next few days and making sure that we get the coach in place and in the mean time making sure that our student-athletes are dealt with in a fair manner and that they know where expectations are as it relates to them going to class, strength and conditioning, study hall, all those kinds of thing, and taking care of their football business. We will then bring them a coach as soon as possible."
Hamilton met with Tennessee's eight mid-term enrollees on Wednesday morning. His message was for those players to go to class and do everything expected of UT's student-athletes. He said the meeting was "great" and that players were early.
"We know that these kinds of decisions are made related to coaches in many ways, but we hope also their decision to come here was because of things they saw at the University of Tennessee, the institution, the crowd the support, the fan support, those kinds of things," Hamilton said. "Again, I really hit on the fact that there's success. It's not a fly-by-night operation. I'm in my 18th year at Tennessee. I'm in my seventh year as athletic director. We've got people surrounding them that are stable and have been here for a long time. We're going to make sure that we operate in their best interest."
And in the university's.
"Every search process you go through, you learn a little bit more in terms of analyzing and assessing someone's character traits and abilities and all those kinds of things," Hamilton said. "You find out there's a lot of different flavors of ice cream, so to speak. You've got to decide which is the best flavor for your particular institution. One individual who might fit at one school might not fit at another. I think it's critical. The more you do this, the more comfort level you get. And you don't want to do it very often."
In response to a direct question, Hamilton said he did not regret hiring Kiffin, who officially took over for Phillip Fulmer on Dec. 1, 2009.
"No I don't," Hamilton said. "I believe that Lane did a really nice job for us as an on-the-field coach and in recruiting, did a lot of nice things in that regard. At the time, I've reflected back over this a lot in the last 24 hours, and I think it was the right decision at the time. It's easy to reflect back than to project forward sometimes. But I've thought about that a lot over the last 24 hours."
Although Kiffin's departure moved quickly over that time frame, Hamilton began preparing for the eventuality last weekend.
Among other topics discussed in a meeting between the two Saturday, Hamilton asked if Kiffin would be interested in the Southern California job if contacted by the Trojans. Kiffin said he would, a move Hamilton called "forthright."
Early Tuesday morning, Hamilton received a call from Kiffin informing him that Southern California athletic director Mike Garrett had contacted Kiffin about the job.
Things unfolded quickly from there, Hamilton said, and Kiffin held a press conference Tuesday night to announce his departure.
"I specifically asked him, `Is this a matter of contract negotiations? Do I need to be discussing your contract?' " Hamilton said. "As you know, he deferred his contract discussions as we came out of the regular season to finish up the recruiting season. He said this is not about the money, this is about that particular job and his interest in that particular job."
Asked what he said when Kiffin told him he was taking the USC job, Hamilton replied:
"I said, `Look, this is the most competitive conference in America. I thought you were a competitive guy. If you want to be in the most competitive league in America, you need to be here. And if you choose to go somewhere else, that's your prerogative.' Our league's separation from the rest of America is only going to grow farther based upon our new television contract."
Although Kiffin's bravado rubbed some the wrong way during his short time in Knoxville, confidence will be important in UT's next head coach.
"I want a head coach is confident in his ability to succeed, because if you are not confident in your ability to succeed in this league, you will get eaten alive," Hamilton said. "On the recruiting trail, as it relates to coaching these guys up, you have to be confident to be successful in the SEC."
That's the ultimate goal for Tennessee, which is coming off a 7-6 season in which it finished second in the SEC East. Clearly, though, Hamilton isn't pleased with conducting another coaching search barely more than a year after hiring Kiffin.
"I'm really, to be honest with you, very, very disappointed right now for our student-athletes and our fans that we are having to be here and have this discussion," Hamilton said. "Our student-athletes, frankly, have had to suffer now through two changes in our head coaching position over the last 14 or 15 months.
"Let's not lose sight of, it's really all about the student-athletes in the end."
Although a meeting in Denver prevented him from meeting with UT's players on Tuesday, Hamilton said he'll have a chance to speak with them soon.
"I'm not going to get a chance to do that," Hamilton said. "We're headed out. My next chance to visit with them will hopefully be standing in front of them with a new head coach."