Tennessee Makes Special Delivery to NCAA: Lane Kiffin
For the past several months the University of Tennessee and the NCAA have been feverishly negotiating the notice of allegations that UT released Wednesday. The damage to the Volunteer athletic program was significant, but it wasn't crippling. Why? Because Tennessee handled the NCAA, a bureaucratic agency that answers to its own regulations and precedent as it sees fit, just about as well as a university can.
By that I mean that Tennessee immediately retained heavyweight attorney Mike Glazier, who specializes in these investigations and is worth his weight in gold. Whatever legal fees the Vols paid him in 2010 and '11, Tennessee got the best bargain for its money in college football this side of Cam Newton. They ought to retire his gavel on the ring of honor at Neyland Stadium.
In earlier drafts of the notice of allegations the Volunteer football program was set to take a hit for a major violation, a failure to monitor, alongside Lane Kiffin. Then, voila, Glazier worked his magic in the last two weeks and not only managed to avoid a direct hit to the football program, but he delivered Lane Kiffin's head on a silver platter to the NCAA.
Throughout this investigation, according to multiple sources, the goal of Tennessee was to isolate the football violations and place them squarely upon Lane Kiffin and his staff. Ultimately the Vols succeeded in going state's evidence and making Lane Kiffin football's fall guy.
A few months ago, Bruce Pearl said he missed Lane Kiffin being in Knoxville because Kiffin would always put his foot in his mouth and get the attention off Pearl. Well, Pearl got his wish. For one last time, Kiffin delivered the Volunteer basketball coach the ultimate gift, on a day that Pearl got slammed with seven major violations, a great deal of attention has shifted to the only real surprise from the notice, Kiffin's being hit with two major violations of his own.
Let's dive in and consider six other major takeaways from the notice of allegations arriving.
1. There are two coaches on the hot seat: Bruce Pearl and Lane Kiffin.
Only Pearl's metaphorical seat didn't really get any hotter with the notice's release. If anything, it may have cooled a bit. The Vols are going to stick with him. Yes, he's accused of seven major violations, but none of these details -- save the impermissible bump with a recruit -- were surprises. If Tennessee was going to fire Bruce Pearl, it would have already made that move. Why suffer the slings and arrows of condemnation for keeping Pearl -- every televised game has featured at least 20 minutes of public chastisement -- and then cut him loose later on?
That makes no sense. You've reaped the whirlwind of negativity and still lost the most successful coach in Tennessee basketball history.
Nothing in this notice changes anything for Bruce Pearl. He's still on a hot seat because he can't do anything improper anytime soon, and you don't know what punishment the committee on infractions will levy. But assuming the NCAA suspends him for a season or less, he's going to be at Tennessee for a long time to come provided he stays out of additional trouble. In fact, and this might be the ultimate irony, Pearl may finish his career now at Tennessee since it will take him a long time -- perhaps he never can -- to recover in the eyes of any other program. He's damaged goods for any other school.
Which brings us to Lane Kiffin.
The real question left now is will Pat Haden, a man brought in to burnish USC's credentials in the wake of NCAA probation retain Lane Kiffin when all is said and done? So far Haden has publicly endorsed Kiffin, but will that last? There are a mountain of questions related to that issue.
Which we'll explore next.
2. What does Lane Kiffin's contract at USC say?
Only a few people know since USC is a private school. Typically being found guilty of a major violation by the NCAA is sufficient grounds to lead to a for cause termination of any coach. Why is that important? Because a for-cause termination means that the remainder of the contract, that is the years left on the deal, are no longer guaranteed.
Recall that Tennessee terminated Bruce Pearl's contract last fall and that Pearl is currently coaching with no security. If the Vols cut Pearl tomorrow they'd owe him nothing. He's an at-will employee. Committing a major violation leaves a coach hanging by a thread, the school can cut him loose at no extra coast.
So if the committee on infractions maintains these major violations against Lane Kiffin, then Pat Haden, the man who didn't hire Kiffin, has an opportunity to cut bait and run without owing Kiffin a dollar more. Fire him now, before the final determination is made, and USC would risk a Jim O'Brien situation, that is get sued and end up owing a coach the damages on his contract for violating its terms.
Haden could still fire Kiffin now and send a message to the NCAA that his reign is going to be different than the disastrous reign of Mike Garrett, but he might end up owing Kiffin all the money left on his contract because it could end up being a firing without cause.
Now, having said all that, here's a real legal wild card, what if Kiffin's termination for cause clause doesn't include any acts he may have committed before he was hired as USC's head coach? Want to know why it takes so long for coaches to sign contracts nowadays? It's because of issues like these. That is, it's possible USC can't fire Kiffin for anything he did before he became USC's coach. Then there would be no way for USC to part ways with Kiffin absent paying him for all the years remaining on his contract.
Which makes it even more likely that Kiffin could survive based upon a well-worded contract. See, lawyers matter.
Given the fact that Haden is a lawyer and acknowledged reading my article three weeks ago about Kiffin's pending failure to monitor notice, I think it's likely that Haden won't make any moves until after the committee on infractions meets in June and delivers a final verdict on Lane Kiffin.
So, the story from USC can go an awful lot of directions over the next few months. It's going to be fascinating to see how Pat Haden, the man brought in to clean up the program, reacts to the maelstrom.
3. Mike Garrett's decision to hire Lane Kiffin remains inexplicable.
I've been saying for over a year and today y'all finally saw why I've been saying it: One reason USC got hit so hard by the NCAA was because it adopted the exact opposite approach as Tennessee. Whereas the Vols worked with the NCAA to reach a mutually agreed upon, at least to a certain extent, compromise regarding the violations, former AD Mike Garrett hired Lane Kiffin in the midst of the Trojans NCAA morass. Hiring Lane Kiffin, while the NCAA was already investigating his actions at Tennessee was the ultimate finger in the eye, spittle to the face, like waving a red flag in the face of an onrushing bull.
The NCAA was pissed.
And you don't want to piss off the NCAA. It's like cursing an IRS agent.
Kiffin may be a great coach -- I think he's got a real gift with college quarterbacks -- but he was the worst possible hire for USC.
Haden's smart, and by now he knows this. Firing Kiffin would alter USC's narrative and curry favor with the NCAA in the midst of an appeal that is currently pending. Keep this in the back of your mind. Could Kiffin be a pawn sacrificed to the greater Trojan good?
4. Consider the message being sent by the NCAA.
One of the most common critiques of the NCAA is that coaches skate and programs burn.
In a pretty radical move, the NCAA bought what Tennessee was selling -- it wasn't us, it was the coach.
As SI's Stewart Mandel and 24/7's Cecil Hurt both pointed out, the closest analogy to this situation is when Rick Neuheisel left Colorado and ended up at Washington. He faced substantial restrictions at Washington in his ability to host recruits on campus and to leave campus to recruit as well. Already hobbled thanks to the probation, USC may have to add restrictions to its ace recruiter's ability to get talent to campus.
5. Tennessee is lucky as hell that Lane Kiffin left. So is Lane Kiffin.
Consider, if Lane Kiffin doesn't leave Tennessee, the Vols' program was destined to end up in much greater trouble. Assuming he had a mediocre 2010 season, say 7-6 or so, Kiffin would have been 14-12 in two seasons at Tennessee. That wouldn't have been enough to save his job as soon as this report came out. The only reason Bruce Pearl survived is because he's been so damn successful.
Lane wouldn't have had a chance to be that successful. So he'd have been fired if he'd stayed. So would Vol athletic director Mike Hamilton, who would be unable to avoid the guillotine if both head coaches of his major programs went on probation at the same time.
Leaving for USC just ahead of the NCAA posse was probably the best decision Lane Kiffin has made in his head coaching career.
6. Now what happens?
We wait for the committee on infractions in early June and then we wait several more months after that hearing for the infractions committee's decision. When will that decision come down probably not until early fall. Just as the beginning of basketball practice moves closer.
By that time, we'll have a better sense for what punishment awaits Bruce Pearl and Lane Kiffin.
In the meantime, at the last possible moment, the Tennessee football program stepped away from a speeding train while pushing Lane Kiffin forward.
Follow Clay Travis on Twitter here. With All That and a Bag of Mail back on a weekly basis, you can e-mail him questions at Clay.Travis@gmail.com.