Behind the scenes of Lane Kiffin’s wild return to Tennessee

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Lane Kiffin stood exterior the site visitors locker room at Neyland Stadium in the wee hrs of Sunday early morning proudly twirling a beaten-up yellow vary ball and searching for a new visor.

He’d just tossed his old visor to the jeering Tennessee enthusiasts as he exited a area littered with h2o bottles, vape pipes, screws, a half-eaten apple, even an empty mustard bottle. He retained the golfing ball as a memento but felt as if he owed the Vols’ fans their own memento.

“The Tennessee enthusiasts there at the tunnel ended up all going, ‘F— you. F— you,’ so I throw them my visor … and they all commence preventing more than it,” Kiffin instructed ESPN. “Maybe all of them never despise me.”

Lane Kiffin caught a drinking water bottle on his way out of Neyland Stadium – and tossed his visor back ?

— ESPN (@espn) October 17, 2021

Possibly not, but what’s not debatable — in the aftermath of just one of the wildest and ugliest scenes in recent university football history Saturday in Ole Miss’ 31-26 victory in excess of Tennessee — is that when Kiffin exits Knoxville as a head mentor, all hell is certain to break loose.

“Just when you believed absolutely everyone experienced moved on and built up,” Kiffin explained jokingly. “Almost nothing at any time goes regular. Welcome to my world. And we all assumed it was outrageous when I left right here 12 decades ago.”

In January 2010, when Kiffin bolted Tennessee immediately after just a person time for the USC head-coaching task, drunken college students were functioning amok on campus and burning mattresses as the information broke. Even an impromptu news conference that Kiffin termed to describe to fans why he was leaving erupted into chaos, with media users screaming at each other and battling over what part of Kiffin’s comments would be on digital camera as he waited in an adjacent hallway.

Then on Saturday, with Kiffin back again on Rocky Leading for the first time as a head coach, lovers peppered the Ole Miss sideline with particles of each and every kind just after a controversial location on a fourth-down perform by the Vols that came up just limited of the to start with-down marker.

The activity was delayed for 20 minutes as protection staff evacuated the Ole Miss out on sideline and despatched coaches and players to the middle of the industry. Ole Miss cheerleaders also had to be cleared from the sideline, and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey issued a assertion condemning the “actions of fans,” with Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman and athletic director Danny White each issuing apologies to Ole Miss on behalf of Tennessee.

When the approximately 5-hour marathon was eventually above, a composed Kiffin gathered his players with each other in the locker space and instructed them that it was the substantially-maligned Ole Overlook defense that “truly gained the recreation for us,” drawing a substantial cheer.

Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel /United states of america Today Sports

But the most raucous cheer came when Kiffin thanked his gamers for the way they managed the complete circus, from the buildup to his return to the bottle-throwing circus at the finish of the video game.

“I failed to say anything all week,” Kiffin instructed the gamers. “This was definitely a significant offer individually, so I want to thank you fellas.”

A chorus of players roared back, “We acquired you, coach.”

Kiffin, who went out of his way to compliment the passion of the Tennessee supporters even right after dodging bottles and golfing balls, couldn’t keep back again. He cracked a wry grin and mentioned, “It wasn’t about me, but I just want to say, ‘Take that, you 100,000 supporters.'”

The locker area once more erupted, and Ole Skip quarterback Matt Corral, his eye black smeared throughout his face, nodded his head approvingly and pointed in the course of his head coach.

“I felt it all 7 days, what this sport intended to him. He attempted to cover it, even from me,” reported Corral, who handed for 231 yards, rushed for 195 yards and threw two landing passes. “He did a wonderful work because if he would have tried out to make it a factor with us, it could have been a distinctive end result.

“This was never ever about Coach Kiffin’s revenge tour or whatever. It was about us coming in here and receiving a collective gain, and he set the tone for that.”

Corral acquired a excellent search at Kiffin’s memento golf ball.

“I saw him put it in his pocket,” Corral reported. “He is likely to save that, and he should really. I guess it was his likely-away present from the fans.”

2 Connected

Even the night time prior to the video game, Kiffin experienced a single of all those “Twilight Zone” feelings. His suite at the Hilton was the correct identical one particular he stayed in when he arrived to be introduced as the Vols’ mentor on Dec. 1, 2008.

“They introduced me in, and I don’t forget sitting down in the similar suite and observing Mentor [Phillip] Fulmer’s very last sport and seeing the gamers carry him off the discipline,” reported Kiffin, who would be formally launched two days later.

Kiffin joked with his agent, Jimmy Sexton, that he may well strike the town Friday evening in advance of the game and even trolled Tennessee followers on Twitter that night time with a photograph of Rooster’s Sports Bar, 1 of Kiffin’s beloved establishments when he was coaching at Tennessee.

Kiffin’s father, Monte, and his sister, Heidi, built the vacation to Knoxville and achieved some mates out for evening meal Friday night time. It’s the only highway journey Monte, now 82, options to make for the period.

“I was not heading to pass up this a single,” he stated, repeating one thing he has told many individuals more than the a long time.

“I nonetheless say we never must have still left below. So many excellent people and a good spot to stay, but Lane just could not say no to USC.”

Whilst Kiffin didn’t make it out Friday evening, he did make a number of rounds Saturday early morning. He went to a yoga course, which has develop into a staple of his now that he has lost much more than 30 pounds and is on a regimented well being kick. He also stopped by to see some good friends and even took a image of his previous house on the lake in west Knoxville.

“Of all my coaching stops, that was my favored household,” Kiffin claimed.

Kiffin has been a element of some electrical environments at Neyland Stadium but claimed the 1 Saturday, prior to and all through the recreation, was as good as he has noticed.

Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel/United states of america Right now Athletics

“You could convey to when we received below, they had been prepared,” he stated.

It was Tennessee’s initially residence sellout considering that 2017. The Vols’ lovers checkerboarded the stadium, and the vibe at the tailgates on campus was like the previous days when the Vols have been competing for — and successful — championships.

Patrick Palmer and his son, Ryan, came from Tewksbury Township, New Jersey, for the video game and met up with longtime buddies from college or university.

“Lane Kiffin coming back again is a big explanation we picked this match to occur back for,” mentioned Palmer, who performed baseball at Tennessee. “The matter that seriously eats at you, even though, is that when he remaining, it established our application again 10 yrs. We are nevertheless attempting to get better.”

Rusty Rathburn, who lived at the aged East Stadium Corridor dormitory with Palmer, produced the journey from Portage, Michigan, alongside with his son, Luke, who has grow to be a rabid Tennessee admirer.

“It’s virtually like we’ve been cursed since Kiffin still left, and we have not been capable to break that curse,” 17-year-old Luke said.

Some of the genuinely younger Tennessee enthusiasts frowned at the mere point out of Kiffin’s name.

“He is a traitor,” mentioned 11-yr-aged Parker Cates, who was at the activity with his father, Tripp, and more youthful sister, Addie.

But in quite a few techniques, echoing the sentiments of some Tennessee fans to this working day, Parker eloquently explained why there is certainly these kinds of a enjoy-dislike romantic relationship between Tennessee supporters and Kiffin.

“My father told me if he would not have still left that we would have long gone to the SEC championship recreation at least a couple of periods, so that’s why I want to conquer his butt,” explained Parker, introducing that he would be Ok with Kiffin coming back again.

“But I like Josh Heupel better.”

AJ Crigger, who at 10 a long time previous wasn’t even born when Kiffin was the head coach at Tennessee, has also heard all the tales from his dad, Blake, who performed baseball at Tennessee.

“I hope he breaks four headsets, and we’re not likely to permit him throw his engage in sheet in this video game,” AJ reported although tailgating with his dad right before the recreation.

The first time Kiffin returned to Tennessee as offensive coordinator at Alabama in 2014, he reported Alabama safety officials tried using to persuade him to dress in a bulletproof vest less than his coaching equipment.

“They retained speaking to me about it, but I wasn’t likely to do that,” he claimed.

And, no, he did not assume about donning a person this time, even although he could have utilised some protection individuals previous 54 seconds when the Ole Skip sideline became a “driving range target” for golf balls and everything else.

“I assume it was mainly learners, and then you get 100,000 individuals together and things you should not go their way with all that energy, they get upset,” stated Kiffin, introducing that the fans’ outrage at the conclude of the game was almost certainly directed at the officials as substantially as at him.

Both way, as the stands started to fill and the energy developed before the sport, Kiffin admits he imagined back to the South Carolina game in 2009 when the Vols wore black jerseys and upset No. 22 South Carolina and Steve Spurrier 31-13.

“I had that blackout sensation very similar to the South Carolina activity when we defeat them below,” Kiffin said. “I just recall managing out of the ‘T’ and was like, ‘Whoa!’ But this time, I was on the other close.”

Even even though he experienced been back again to Neyland Stadium 2 times as an offensive coordinator at Alabama, Kiffin acknowledged that it was different coming again as a head coach.

“It genuinely did not hit right until the activity acquired likely, and then the supporters got a small outrageous,” he explained. “There ended up a great deal of individuals declaring, ‘You’re No. 1’ [holding up middle finger]. I would mentioned, ‘Hey, thank you.'”

Kiffin made an remarkable just one-handed snag of a bottle thrown at him as he was leaving the industry. He was showered with a bucket total of popcorn, also.

The popcorn indications ended up everywhere you go just before the game.

“Having my popcorn all set to check out the Lane Train leap the monitor,” longtime Tennessee fan Scott Gilmore mentioned.

In this circumstance, the Lane Train held on rolling to Ole Miss’ best commence (5-1) because its 2015 Sugar Bowl year.

And inspite of the rude goodbye by some Tennessee fans, Kiffin reported there are no tricky feelings. At least not on his end.

“It can be kinda like an ex when they say, ‘Oh, I am genuinely above him or in excess of her,’ and then when they see a particular person with their new wife or husband, meaning football staff in this scenario, they lose their mind and go outrageous,” Kiffin stated. “Possibly that has anything to do with it.

“But I’ve usually admired the passion of these admirers.”