Let me say at the outset, I support Lane Kiffin. I am not a fan of Kiffin’s – a sentiment that is no secret to those who know me or who have read some previous posts. Some of that is because of Kiffin’s demeanor and doings. Most of my issues, though, are outside Kiffin’s control, and will in time subside. But my disapproval aside, I support Kiffin and hope for him to be successful as the coach at my alma mater.
I also support him in his recent decisions concerning the discipline of some of his players who have transgressed the law (and common sense).
Kiffin has received his share of criticism and mocking because of recent incidents. Two players have been dismissed from the team, one still has his fate on hold, because of their involvement in an attempted armed robbery. (See: Kiffin’s Rule.) And now, adding fuel to the fire, was Tuesday’s breaking news that yet another Freshman football player had found trouble with the law a week before the nationally publicized incident. (See: Kiffin’s Non-Incident Streak Intercepted.)
I suppose jokes, at Kiffin’s expense, about these incidents ought to be expected. Kiffin has been pious and bragadocio about his “clean” record as opposed to other SEC coaches and compared to his predecessor at UT. It’s easy to claim a clean track record when you have no record at all. Now Kiffin will find that some of the mud he has been slinging has also splattered him.
But while the scoffers get their chuckles, let’s be fair. These legal problems are NOT Kiffin’s fault. If someone graduates high school, he ought to be educated enough the be able to know the difference between legal and illegal. These athletes should assume responsibility for themselves when it comes to deciding to break the law.
What is drawing the most attention, however, is Kiffin’s handling of these athletes. Again I want to afffirm my support of his decisions – both to dismiss some players, AND to weigh the options with another.
Critics will grumble, assuming that the motive for non-dismissal is merely talent and production. The guy who has not been dismissed (yet) is a starter, has played well, and likely would have been a Freshman All America had he not been involved. But I do not agree with the critics who have accused Kiffin of hypocrissy. In fact, it is this non-dismissal that has me intrigued and hopeful about Kiffin.
Previously Kiffin has taken a no-nonsense stance when talking about discipline issues. I applaud this. This position has its merits. But I also know that not all situations, not all players, are the same. Each incident needs to be evaluated individually. I am intrigued that Kiffin has not treated all the players the same, and am hopeful that he has learned to weigh many factors – not just image control. If so, we are witnessing the maturing of a young and talented coach.
I am not suggesting that wrong should be called “right”, or even “alright”. I am saying that when Kiffin recruits a young man he has a responsibility to help shape that young man. It is an important part of being a coach – far more important than the “W’s” and “L’s”. Sometimes it is the four or five years a player spends in college that sets the direction for his life. In some cases those years, and the coaches influence, redirects a life.
Kiffin’s predecssor, Philip Fulmer, understood that many young men have never had a strong, positive male figure in their lives. He understood that he, and the other coaches, were not only the first such role models, they may be the only ones some will ever get. If a player is dismissed from the team because of foolishness (even criminal foolishness) it is likley he will continue to be a fool once removed from the only positive influence in his life. Consequently, Fulmer was sometimes slow to dismiss a player – no matter how talented, or how average. He was willing to take the hits to his own reputation for the sake of an individual. I would even say, he was willing to lay down his own life for the good of another. (See 1 John 3.16) Fulmer, and all good coaches, care more about the young men than even their own records and reputations. And our society is the better for it.
While we read about those athletes who choose to act like idiots, who risk and throw away opportunites most can only dream of having, we rarely read about the ones who enrolled posessing no more character but, through the coaches influnece, become good men and good citizens. (How would such a thing be reported? Headline: “Vol Athlete Attends Class & Keeps Curfew!” That’d be a page turner…) But far more are those stories than the ones that grab for attention.
As Lane Kiffin deliberates the future of Janzen Jackson, I am hopeful that the young mans future is as much on Kiffin’s heart as beating Vanderbilt and Kentucky is. There will no doubt be more dismissals in the future – and Jackson may be one – but if Kiffin has learned to weigh all the factors, he is a man worthy to be called “Coach” – even at my Tennessee.