Remember the ugly scene in Knoxville when then-head coach Lane Kiffin decided to leave Tennessee’s football program for the sunny shores of Southern Cal? No? Well, let me refresh your memory. Kiffin was in year one of a six-year, 14.25 million dollar deal when his former employer called to offer him the vacated job. When Kiffin ultimately decided he would take the head coaching position at USC, he first held a meeting with his players at Tennessee to let them know that he was bailing on them for, what he perceived as, greener pastures. When they realized what was going on many players began to scream and yell at Kiffin as he relayed the bad news to them. They, understandably, felt betrayed. The news of his departure quickly leaked and the Tennessee faithful was, obviously, furious. Fans proceeded to gather around the football facility on Johnny Majors Drive in a mob-like fashion, chanting “F— you, Kiffin!” at every car that passed by, hoping to personally express their displeasure to the coach that had spurned them. Eventually, the Tennessee football players joined the melee, too. Some of the current players were even quoted saying “Somebody find Phillip Fulmer (the coach Kiffin was hired to replace) and give him his job back.” After all, Kiffin invited these kids to trust and buy into his system.. and just like that, he was gone.
Tennessee football has yet to recover after Kiffin’s departure. Current head coach Derek Dooley was hired to replace Kiffin, but cannot seem to find his footing and looks to be on the verge of being fired at season’s end. Really, Dooley was never ready for the job of reviving the Tennessee football program. He was coming off of a losing season at Louisiana Tech and was pretty much an emergency hire after Kiffin decided he was leaving for USC.
Bobby Petrino’s father telling the Courier-Journal that his son would like to be considered for the Kentucky job has evoked a ton of different emotions from Wildcat fans. Some are adamant in the fact that Petrino is the best candidate Kentucky will have a chance to hire. Other are cautious because of Petrino’s past endeavors and would only want him hired if he was the absolute last option. Looking at the success he’s had at other schools, there’s no doubt that Petrino is a good coach. He would be the best guy Kentucky has had at the helm of its program in quite some time, but are the Kentucky fans that are desperately calling to hire Petrino willing to risk a similar Kiffin-type situation in Lexington?
Before you answer that, let me say that Kentucky fans would not react the same way Tennessee fans did with Kiffin. It’s safe to say the Tennessee fan base values winning football a little more than Kentucky’s does, but that doesn’t mean a quick departure would be completely dismissed. If Petrino is hired, there would be constant rumors of him being offered a better job as soon as one became available. After the Arkansas debacle, Petrino needs to show he’s able to be trusted again and Kentucky provides that place. The Wildcats will come back next year with good talent and SEC competition for Petrino to prove himself against. It would seemingly be a perfect stepping stone for Petrino to get back to a national powerhouse.
There are some pretty uncanny similarities between Petrino right now, and Kiffin when he was hired by Tennessee. Both coaches left their previous job on not-so-good terms. Petrino was fired by Arkansas after the infamous motorcycle crash and scandal. Kiffin was fired by the Oakland Raiders after a feud with late owner Al Davis, that eventually ended in a lawsuit. Kiffin was seen as a big name for a struggling program that would excite a dormant fan base, exactly what Petrino would be with Kentucky. Both coaches have displayed some questionable character throughout their careers as well. Kiffin and his current employer, USC, were just assessed a $25,000 fine from the Pac-12 after they were caught deflating balls so they’d be easier for the quarterback to throw. Kiffin wasn’t taking the fall for the hiccup so who got the blame? That’s right, a USC student manager was fired because of it. That sounds bad, but Petrino can easily top it. Petrino left his 3-10 Atlanta Falcons to fend for themselves after Arkansas wanted to make him their head coach. Petrino left Atlanta like a thief in the night, with nothing but a note in the Falcons players’ lockers letting them know he wouldn’t be finishing the season.
If Petrino would leave an NFL team high-and-dry, what makes Kentucky so special? Why risk missing out on someone like Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes, a guy who is winning on a national stage right now and has ties to the Kentucky program, for a guy that changes his jobs quicker than his underwear?
Kentucky fans that are adamantly calling for Petrino’s hiring need to look at the bigger picture. The Wildcats have a real chance to build something special within the next couple of years. Quarterback Maxwell Smith is an incredible talent that can be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation with the right coach guiding him. That same coach will have Patrick Towles to mold while Smith has the reigns of the offense. The main thing that is required to shape these young quarterbacks is time, and I’m not sure Petrino is willing to give it to Kentucky.