Lane Kiffin is Monte Kiffin's son and boss but has been influenced more as a football coach by Southern Cal's leader.
Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin talked with his father and defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, during the first day of spring practice in March. Monte Kiffin left his job as the highest-paid assistant in the NFL to become the Volunteers’ defensive coordinator and coach with his son.
Lane Kiffin has stolen coaches and recruits from his rivals, offended the best football programs in the country, and lured his father away from the best assistant coaching job in the NFL to work for a 33-year-old who's never run a college program before. What's a nice boy from Bloomington doing in a predicament like this? And what is his father, Monte, thinking -- giving up the highest assistant coaching salary in the NFL, and his beach house near Tampa, to work for his son in Knoxville, Tenn.?
''It never crossed my mind that I'd end up here,'' said Monte Kiffin, who was Vikings linebackers coach when Lane was playing for Bloomington Jefferson. ''But it is something. The talk shows start at 6 a.m. talking about Tennessee football -- and that's during basketball season.''
Lane Monte Kiffin -- yes, his middle name is ''Monte'' and his son's name is ''Monte Knox Kiffin'' -- is the former Jefferson quarterback who tutored under Pete Carroll at USC and chafed under Al Davis as the novice head coach of the Oakland Raiders.
Now Lane has landed one of the best -- or most challenging -- coaching jobs in college football, replacing Falterin' Phil Fulmer at the University of Tennessee.
Upon taking the job, Kiffin went after many of the best recruiters and recruits in the Southeastern Conference, landing his share and even offending Urban Meyer, coach at Florida. When he stole receiver Nu'Keese Richardson from the Gators, Lane told a breakfast gathering of Volunteers fans that ''I love the fact that Urban had to cheat and still didn't get him.''
Kiffin later apologized. In a Sports Illustrated story, Kiffin bragged about stealing many of the best recruiters and assistant coaches away from rival programs. Kiffin's brashness caused Florida players to post photos of him in their locker room, prompting an unabashed Kiffin to tell ESPN, "First, I think it's a neat thing that Tennessee's logo is all over Florida's locker room.''
Monte Kiffin built a Hall of Fame-caliber career with defensive innovations and relentless enthusiasm. He left his position as defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Bucs to join his son in the same position in Knoxville.
Monte worked for years with Pete Carroll in the NFL, and when he took over at USC, Lane Kiffin quickly signed on and rose to offensive coordinator before leaving for Oakland.
Monte was always talkative but never brash. Are he and Lane that different? Monte answered that question by phone Friday.
''No, not really,'' Monte said. ''He made a few statements that made him sound brash, but he's not. We're different, but his mentor, more than myself, is Pete Carroll. Pete's really brought him up to try to run a program like it's Southern Cal.
''I'm not saying we'll be that good, but Pete recruits nationally, and that's what Lane is doing here.''
Lane Kiffin made an immediate impact on Tennessee's recruiting despite a late start. One of his recruiters had almost forgotten how rigorous that job can be.
''The recruiting here has been a little off the last few years,'' Monte said. ''That's probably the reason we're here. So I get here, and they immediately put me on the road, sending me all over the place.''
Monte's first day on the job, they sent him to Memphis, and he found himself standing outside a closed school in the dark, with fellow assistant Ed Orgeron telling him, ''We've got to be the first ones in the building!'' Soon, Monte was hopscotching to Louisiana, Alabama and Atlanta on a private plane. ''Lane has me on the run,'' Monte said.
Lane has hired a staff filled with excellent recruiters, most notably the storied defensive coordinator who isn't likely to leave him for another job.
''We're really enjoying this,'' Monte said. ''I call him 'Coach,' and he calls me 'Dad.'''
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • firstname.lastname@example.org