Lane, the boyish-looking first-year Tennessee head coach with a cowboy's swagger, and wife Layla, so blonde and strikingly attractive her image is where Internet search engines go to goof off at work. Three angelic kids, two girls and a boy -- daughters Landry, 4, and Presley, 2, and son Knox, the toddler.
If, as society likes to suggest, image is everything, the Volunteers' first family has it all and a little bit extra. Who doesn't like young, attractive and cool? Who would not want to climb on board modern life by Norman Rockwell? When Tennessee continues the Lane Kiffin era Saturday when the 1-1 Volunteers take on No. 1 Florida in The Swamp, college football will watch with a captivated eye.
In the background, however, a picture-perfect pose had grown less and less idyllic. Intruding like a vulgar gesture flashed just before a click of the shutter button was shame.
A purebred family of football was bleeding internally. Lane had father, Monte, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator and architect of a Super Bowl-winning defense, at his side and now on the Volunteers' staff. But Layla, daughter of John Reaves, former Florida All-American quarterback, 11-year NFL veteran and college assistant, had her dad's calls blocked.
"Persona non grata," Reaves told FanHouse earlier this month. "That means you are not welcome around here. Can't say I blame them. I was an embarrassment. She was concerned about the children because of my behavior."
For more than a year, father and daughter did not speak. Check that: daughter would not listen.
"I'd call and she would not answer," Reaves said. "I'd text and she would not reply."
A hell-and-back feel-good story had U-turned straight back to hell. Twenty years of sobriety wasn't just gone, it was torched, replaced by a nine-year binge with no end in sight.
John Reaves, now 59, the Philadelphia Eagles' No. 1 draft pick in 1972, "bottomed out" on alcohol and drugs in 1980 -- the breaking point being a bizarre restaurant altercation and standoff with police in his hometown of Tampa -- before righting himself with rehab. Now all that good work was gone; back to his wild ways.
"I had a series of events that led me to being in a tough situation," Reaves says, sitting in a two-story home in the upscale Sunset Park section of old Tampa with a 'For Sale' sign out front. "In 2000, I went through a divorce that basically broke my heart. My mother died and I got fired from coaching.
"Between 1980 and 2000, I had 20 years of sobriety. Of course, I had stopped going to meetings and stopped working on the program. Generally, when that happens, we have a high tendency to relapse. And I did.
"Within months I was really tearing it up again. I can't do one drink, I can do 20 doubles. I can do that but I can't do one. I think I was out every night till 3 AM for the last five years. You know, hardly any sleep. Burning the candle at both ends."
Layla pleaded and pushed for her father to again seek help. So did brother David, now the quarterbacks coach at Tennessee. Likewise for the youngest of three kids, Stephen, a former quarterback at Southern Miss now playing for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League.
Finally, the breaking point ... an ugly moment of monumental proportions.
"I made an absolute fool of myself in front of the whole family," Reaves said, "the in-laws. Layla, Lane, Monte, his wife, their kids and grandchildren."
Persona non grata. You know what that means.
"Yeah, over a year," Layla tells FanHouse. "I just felt, unfortunately, his lifestyle got to a point it wasn't healthy or safe for me to be a part of it. I finally said, 'Dad, I love you, but I can't support this lifestyle. When you decide to get help, I'll be there for you. But until you do, I just can't subject myself to it. It's too hard. Too hurtful.' "
That is why this weekend's game in Gainesville is more than a family football gathering.
It is one day at a time.
Wednesday September 2 was 100 days of sobriety for Reaves 2.0.
On Saturday September 5, he was at the University of Tennessee's Neyland Stadium -- an invited guest.
"I don't know what this weekend is going to bring," Layla said before Tennessee beat Western Kentucky, 63-7.
Likewise for Reaves.
"It's still in the probationary period for me," he says. "And that's exactly where it should be. I have not earned my way back into the good graces of them or society. But I'm working on it."
Reaves will make another appearance to watch the Volunteers on Saturday when the ex-Gator is on hand for the kickoff. In a star-crossed fate, he will be sitting in the Tennessee section, using tickets provided by son David. Reaves had joked before making the trip that he would probably create a special T-shirt for the occasion, pieceing half of a UT and half of a Florida shirt together.
The cocktail straw that broke the family's back occurred during the summer of 2008 but the unfortunate happening, or ultimately something far worse, was long in motion. The woes Reaves looks back on as the start of his relapse were only the beginning of a domino effect that self-perpetuated itself.
Reaves, college football's all-time leading passer with 7,549 career yards when he left Florida, now is a physical wreck, painful to watch as he tries to rise from his couch. There have been five surgeries, he says, since 2006 to alleviate lingering football pain in his shoulder, back and legs. He needs more, but is without health insurance.
"And, of course, giving pain killers to me was like giving peanuts to an elephant,'' he says.
Adding to the forlorn, Reaves is in the process of filing for bankruptcy.
What was once a prosperous Tampa real estate office, built after assistant coaching stints at Florida, South Carolina and Cornell, seems to be on death's door.
An IRS audit five years ago led to a foreclosure on two commercial properties (and the rental income they produce) in addition to Reaves' residence.
Also, the downturn in the Tampa real estate market was even greater than the national average, and, well, Reaves hasn't had the best local PR working lately, either.
Over a year ago, an argument over one of Reaves' real estate signs on West Shore Boulevard led to his arrest and more local news stories. According to the police report, after a man moved the sign, Reaves flashed a gun and made threats. And cocaine was allegedly found on Reaves when he was booked into jail.
The case is still pending, and Reaves proclaims his innocence, and says the case is going to be dropped. But you get the drift.
"I'm almost disabled, really," Reaves says. "It's been hard for me to work since '06 basically. I'm in terrible condition. My total income right now is $1,250 a month from my NFL pension.
"Basically, all those things, the divorce, the IRS lien on my properties, the disability all put me in a position where I was in a sinkhole, you know."
So Reaves did what studies say 13 percent of all adults in America do. He sought escape through a bottle, addicted to the numbness that is alcohol abuse.
The early July Sunday in 2008 was to be all about family.
During down-time before summer training camp called, Lane, head coach of the Oakland Raiders at the time, had brought Layla and the two kids to the Tampa Bay area for a week's stay at the gulf-front beach house his parents keep as a get-away site.
To cap the stay, daughter Presley, only a few months old at the time, was scheduled for a Sunday morning dedication at the Indian Rocks Beach Baptist Church. The whole Kiffin clan was there. Reaves drove the 30 miles from Tampa to also attend the morning service.
Let Reaves tell the story from there:
"I went over in the morning, but had to leave,'' he remembers. "I needed to show a property early that afternoon. About mid-afternoon, I got with a buddy and we started having a few doubles mixed with a few other unmentionable substances. Pretty soon I was in a pretty stupid state of mind.
"And when I went back over to the beach that led to me making a fool out of myself. I was told not to come back. None of my children would talk to me."
Any hope the estrangement would provide a sobering slap across the face was short-lived. If anything, it only poured Reaves further into an abyss -- and put more distance between him and his family.
"It was total isolation," Reaves says. "You are so lonely -- which makes you want to have another drink to escape."
In January, after the birth of Lane and Layla's third child, Knox, Reaves received a text announcing the news. Nothing more. No other contact.
"The hardest part for me was the beginning," Layla says. "My whole life, my dad was this man I put on a pedestal. Not just for his football career; I thought he was a good man.
"We grew up in church. That was something that was pretty important to our family. So, to see such a drastic turn was such a shock. It took a while to even get used to it. Then, after a couple of years I think I was full of anger and basically turned numb.
"For me it was when the kids were starting to ask questions and wonder. I just got to a point where it was harder to sit and talk to him than it was to cut him off."
It wasn't just family feeling a need to distance itself from Reaves. A year before the incident at the Kiffin's beach house, there was a similar experience during a University of Florida function honoring former players.
The exhibition earned a written reprimand from Florida president Bernie Machen and athletic director Jeremy Foley.
Through the grapevine a former Florida teammate, Larry "Moose" Morris, heard gossip of Reaves' sad plight.
Morris, now a prominent attorney in Pensacola, Fla., had been the backup center and long snapper of the Gators teams that Reaves had quarterbacked from 1969-'71 on the way to becoming a Florida folk hero.
Once a teammate always a teammate, but truth be told, Morris and Reaves were not what anyone would call best friends. Morris has not seen or spoken to his old quarterback in years. All the same, in May after hearing another update on Reaves' fuel-injected demise he picked up the telephone.
"He wanted to know how I was doing," Reaves recalled. "I told him, 'Well, I just sold my mother's silverware so I could have money enough to pay the light bill.' "
Morris made the eight-hour drive from Pensacola to Tampa the next day and by early evening was confronting Reaves.
Morris returned home the next day, but not before leaving Reaves with an offer. He would pay for a stay in the Atlanta Talbot Rehabilitation Center.
"We had an addiction issue in my family," Morris said. "I had been to Talbot with a member of my family. I knew what Talbot could do. I knew they could help him if he would go."
Reaves declined. It went something along the lines of "Don't give a damn; thanks but no thanks."
Two days later, however, he reconsidered.
"It had been another weekend -- right before Memorial Day, another weekend of loneliness and isolation and sickness like with any disease," Reaves says. "I was at the end of my rope. Bottomed out, basically. So I prayed and what came to me was that I should take Moose up on his offer.
Two days later, Morris met Reaves at the Atlanta Airport and accompanied him to the Buckhead area recovery center.
"He's a friend and I knew he needed some help," Morris said from his Pensacola law firm office. "I knew they could help him if he was willing to go.
"This is a positive story. And it's going to be more positive. I'm completely convinced of that. I think John is going to end up being very successful again. And I think his family is going to come together."
Back in Knoxville, Layla looked at a text message from a number she had grown accustomed to ignoring.
This one, however, she read again.
Several days later, Layla made the drive from Knoxville to Atlanta. She brought baby Knox along for the trip.
"She came for a family day," Reaves smiles. "It was the first time I had seen her in over a year. It was the first time I had even seen the baby."
There were tears, strong words and a lot of questions.
"She wanted to know if I was serious or if this was all just to help with the criminal case that's against me -- which it wasn't," Reaves said. "I told her I was there to turn my life around and get headed back in the right direction.
"That's when she talked, basically, that after the incident she was afraid to have me around the children because of the way I would behave.
"I prayed and prayed for that day, but I have to say I'm not 100 percent sold on it yet," she said. "It has been nine years of hurt and lies.
"As he's doing his day-to-day, I'm doing my day-to-day, too. I'm just praying he continues this because it's awesome."
Reaves completed the 30-day stay at Talbot in late May and returned to life Tampa. Every day since he has attended an AA meeting. "Twice a day a few times," he adds.
"I can't fool myself. I have to avoid people and places that are going to put me in a position that will trigger the notion I have to try it again. Usually, people who are in the program who try that, they relapse. But I'm doing OK. You have a network of friends in the program.
"I go to meetings. I hang out with people in the program. I meet with my sponsor. Basically, after completing the program you formulate a game plan for recovery. They call it a plan for recovery, but I added a little football to it. Game plan for recovery."
Results are, at least for now, promising. Last month, Reaves donated time at a local ministry as part of the Tampa Bay NFL Alumni chapter handing out packages to the homeless. He accepted an invitation from an old teammate, now a Tampa high school coach, to do a quarterback clinic. He talks of a chance -- any chance -- to return to coaching. He's back on an exercise routine, trying to strengthen the ailing back.
And a few weeks ago, he got a phone call.
It was the last week of July and only a week until college football practice across the country began. Lane, Layla and the three kids were at the beach -- more precisely, at the Kiffin's beach house.
Would you like to come over. Would you like to see your grandkids?
"Lane was so fired up," Layla said. "Lane obviously is in the limelight in the press with his profession and I did not want it to affect him in any way. But he has been absolutely 100 percent supportive. 'Hey, he has a problem. He's sick.' By no means was he angry or made me feel my family was an embarrassment."
Reaves, however, arrived understandably apprehensive.
He may have been ripped a dozen different ways the last time he visited, but the memory of the damage remained clear.
"It went well," Reaves reported. "Lane was on a run when I got to the house. When he came back he just said, 'Hey, coach, how you doing?' He was kind and supportive. I have a lot of respect for him.
"I spent four, five hours there. I got a chance to swim with the three grandchildren. Hung out at the pool and then we went to lunch.
"After we had lunch, I was waiting in the car with Landry -- the 4-year-old. Landry asked me, 'What did you have to drink, Poppa John?' She calls me Poppa John. I said, 'iced tea.' She said 'what was in it?'
"I said 'just sugar.' "