There were a lot of Tennessee Vols fans on social media over the last couple of weeks that felt like Lane Kiffin would’ve been a home run hire for UT.
I certainly understand the thought process there. Kiffin is a great play-caller, he’s charismatic, and he understands the SEC. I even suggested several times that Kiffin was the best fit for Tennessee.
Kiffin, however, was never going to be the hire. Tennessee wasn’t going to travel down that road. And I’m honestly not sure that Kiffin would’ve taken the job with the looming NCAA sanctions (yes, I know he was texting former players, but that’s just Kiffin being Kiffin).
Tennessee actually ended up with a better option than Kiffin. They basically hired a Kiffin without the controversy.
Josh Heupel is an offensive guru who excels at developing quarterbacks (much like Kiffin). He’s also one of the best play-callers in college football (also like Kiffin).
The only differences between Heupel and Kiffin are the resume and the personality.
Heupel was a long-time assistant at Oklahoma, before eventually landing in the SEC at Missouri and then becoming the head coach at UCF.
Kiffin has more head-coaching experience, but he also has more failures. He was fired by the Oakland Raiders in 2008 and USC in 2013, before landing on Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama. After Kiffin rehabbed his image, he took the head coaching job at FAU.
That’s where he and Heupel crossed paths.
Kiffin and Heupel have played each other head-to-head twice.
And Heupel has got the best of Kiffin both times.
In 2018 — Heupel’s first season at UCF — Kiffin’s FAU team fell 56-36 to UCF.
The next season, FAU lost 48-14 to UCF. FAU went on that season to finish 11-3 and won the Conference USA championship.
After the loss to UCF in 2019, Kiffin told reporters “They (UCF) wear you out. Everything’s going to go really fast and it can get lopsided like it did.”
Kiffin felt like the better option for Tennessee because of the nostalgia factor. Folks were angry when Kiffin left in 2010 because they liked what he was doing at Tennessee. The attitude, the arrogance, the style of play. It was fun. Fans wanted to relive that again. I get it.
But Heupel is the better fit when you consider the situation. He doesn’t have past NCAA issues like Kiffin. He’s had the better offense head-to-head, and he isn’t going to deeply divide the fan base like Kiffin would have (not everyone wanted Kiffin back).
I’m not saying Heupel is going to work out at Tennessee. I have no clue if he will or not. But I think he’s a much better hire than any of us realized he was.
And he’s certainly a better option for the Vols than Lane Kiffin.
Featured image via USA TODAY