Last year my beloved state's university hired a new head football coach. I took an instant disliking to him. Among other things, he was very young, mouthy, wore a sun visor, was rumored not to like the color orange and was married to a woman who went to Florida.
Yes, I know these are not legitimate reasons to dislike someone, but when combined with my gut instinct, these things didn't help. Being loyal to a fault, however, I vowed to get on board and at least be supportive.
That fall our team started out pretty shakily. But the coach said he was standing behind our quarterback, made some adjustments, and things started to turn around. I began to appreciate his methods and the new enthusiasm in the team.
The coach continued to be mouthy and was playing harder and faster with the rules than I was used to. I decided that I was maybe being too critical. Change is always hard and maybe his style wasn't bad - just different.
So I lightened up. And in the Vanderbilt game, when big, ole Wes Brown (arguably the sweetest, most dedicated player on our team at the end of his last home game ever) intercepted that pass and on two destroyed knees and with a Vanderbilt player clinging to him for dear life, lumbered into the end zone for a touchdown, the Tennessee bench erupted with pure joy and so did the coach. And that sealed it for me. He was our coach. He was officially a Tennessee man. (Brown's TD was, hands down, the greatest moment of the season - watch it here.)
And then it all changed. Last Tuesday night I came home to discover that the coach I had decided to like against my initial instincts and better judgement proved me wrong. Or right. Whichever.
Now, I'm all for people following their dreams. And apparently we weren't his dream job. Fine. For some reason coaching USC is his dream job. Fine. You do what you have to do. But when you do it - you need to try to appear that you have at least a tiny ounce of respect for the team and the school and the state that hired you and embraced you in spite of yourself. And, while we're at it, here's what you don't do:
- You don't allow our players to find out from ESPN that you're leaving before you tell them.
- You don't announce you're leaving in a 90-second press conference after the evening news so that you can slink out of town under the cover of darkness.
- You don't show up to the press conference in a baggy golf shirt and shorts.
- You don't allow your assistant coach to stand at the back of the room on his cell phone during your press conference and try to poach our new recruits.
- You don't show up the next day for your new job at a big, live, fancy press conference - in a suit - and tell them that you really had no choice but to leave because our coaching job is "a top 15 job," but this new one is "a number 1 job."
Oh, but he did all of those things plus other devious and rodent-esque things that have come out since.
The silver lining is - as tends to happen in these situations - the worst behavior of a few has brought out the best behavior in many. Because being a team in the SEC is much like being a brother in a family of twelve large, unruly, brutish boys who are hell-bent on beating the crap out of each other all day. That is, until the bully from down the street tries to pick a fight with one of you. Reading the comments on the posts at my favorite Tennessee sports blog warmed my little orange heart:
(From a KY fan) "I hate it for you guys, honest.... you didn't deserve this."
"Gators Fan Here. I never liked Lane Kiffin at all, but this goes beyond the pale. I feel badly for you guys and can only hope karma kicks in sooner rather than later.
"From a Tide Fan: Good riddance to that egomaniac. Your school deserves a lot better than that."
"From a Dawg Fan... I am sorry for ya’ll. It’s a cold wind on Rocky Top tonight, but it will get better."
But the icing on the cake didn't come from the SEC. Surprisingly it came from the PAC-10. Turns out, there are many UCLA fans who have now sworn allegiance with the Volunteers. I think I'll be doing the same in return:
"A Bruin Fan here: Vol fans are some of the best opposing fans I’ve come across and I can’t believe you guys have to deal with this kind of spineless, soulless, gutless BS...You guys will bounce back and it’s going to be a joy to watch."
"From Bruin fan: Keep your chin up Vols!!! I admire your passion for your team. I was not able to travel to Knoxville for the UCLA/UT game but had many friends that did. They all had nothing but great things to say about TN. With that being said, you guys will be better off without Kiffin. Please join the BruinNation in enjoying kicking the crap out of USC and Kiffin!! Best of luck to you guys!"
And I have to admit - this one had me a bit verklempt:
"Let me first say that my family has a place in their heart for the wonderful hospitality of the Vol Nation when we visited Neyland stadium this past year.
Before, during and after the game we were blown away by the truly royal and gracious treatment we were given. From the Rocky Top welcome of the football team by the band and thousands of fans, to the zeal of Neyland stadium, to the unbelievable class of your fans in defeat, we could not get over the entire, wonderful, Tennessee experience. That’s what college football should be about, and you guys and gals are all class.
Just remember, you’re better off. He would have tainted your program forever. No doubt you will replace him with a better man very soon. Don’t worry about revenge. Leave that to us back here in Bruintown. It will be our pleasure. GO VOLS!"So, Mr. Kiffin, I guess what it comes down to is this - if you don't want to be here, then we don't want you here. Eventually I hope to see it in such simple terms and can say it without grinding my teeth. Until that time comes... I hope you enjoyed our Southern Hospitality while it lasted. And I hope you enjoy your new job while it lasts.
But most of all, I hope you remember what you said at the beginning of last season - about how you couldn't wait until you got to hear "Rocky Top" all night long. Because I have a feeling the UCLA band is practicing it as we speak.