KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Lane Kiffin hasn’t been the Tennessee head coach since 2009, but that didn’t stop him from using the “brick by brick” slogan during his introductory press conference at Florida Atlantic.
Kiffin was introduced as the Owls’ new head coach on Tuesday at a press conference that was streamed on Facebook Live.
Kiffin said his program in Boca Raton, Fla., will be about work, and not talk, and he said it would be built “brick by brick.”
That’s the slogan current Tennessee coach Butch Jones has used while bringing the Vols back to national relevance over the past four years.
Tennessee was 7-6 in 2009 after Kiffin took over from first-ballot Hall of Famer Phillip Fulmer as head coach.
Kiffin’s brash style excited fans on the front end, but behind the scenes he was alienating long-time university staffers and putting up pictures of USC players inside the Vols’ football building. Kiffin brought a staff that included current LSU head coach Ed Orgeron and his father, legendary NFL assistant Monte Kiffin.
It wasn’t long before Tennessee’s compliance department had issues as recruiting violations mounted under Kiffin, and questions circulated about the new staff’s ethics.
Kiffin targeted the highest ranked players on the recruiting trail, some with character issues that led to serious off-field problems.
A pair of Kiffin’s prized recruits were arrested on an armed robbery attempt their freshmen years at Tennessee. Of those two, one was charged with murder later in life, and another has been in-and-out of trouble with the law in South Florida since leaving Tennessee.
“As hard as some times were,” Kiffin said on Tuesday, in a passage of general reflection, “when you go through those experiences, if you learn from them and don’t make the same mistake, you know the answers when those things come up again.
“I’m in a much better position now to have an answer when things come up — that’s maturity and growth,” he said. “I think three years with Coach (Nick) Saban, you have a whole new set of answers.”
Tennessee didn’t have answers from the NCAA investigation Kiffin and his staff triggered in 2009 for nearly three years after his departure.
The NCAA cited the Vols for recruiting violations after the investigation hung over the program like a dark cloud for years.
Kiffin was long gone by then, having shocked the Vols by abruptly resigning on Jan. 12, 2010, to take the head coaching job at Southern Cal.
The penalties Tennessee was dealt included a reduction in recruiting evaluation days, official visit limitations and an additional two years of probation (through 2015).
The program’s image was tarnished, the on-field product damaged, and Kiffin successor Derek Dooley simply could not overcome the hand he was dealt.
Tennessee is just now returning to football relevance, earning a top 10 ranking for the first time since 2006 while appearing on ESPN GameDay three times and playing five nationally televised CBS afternoon games.
Kiffin, meanwhile, was fired after opening his fourth season as the Trojans’ head coach with a pair of Pac-12 losses.
The firing at an airport was just as bizarre of some of Kiffin’s transgressions while head coach at Southern Cal.
According to a New York Times story, Kiffin lied about his coaches’ poll ballot, preventing opponents from using the Coliseum for walk-through practice and switching uniform numbers to confuse opponents.
Kiffin looked back Tuesday on his previous head coaching stops during his Tuesday press conference at Florida Atlantic.
“I was so young as a head coach, I was just figuring things out one day at a time instead of having a plan,” Kiffin said. “Coach (Pete) Carroll said he’s been fired twice, and then he figured it out … and he stopped trying to be someone else.”
When asked if he wanted to send a message to the rest of Conference USA at Tuesday’s press conference, Kiffin said he learned from when he upset Coach (Urban) Meyer, “I said we were going to sing Rocky Top all night long in The Swamp,” and “accused him of cheating.”
So, Kiffin concluded, “I’m not worried about sending any messages.”
Kiffin said he will return to Alabama in time for the staff meeting and continue his role as offensive coordinator with the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide through the College Football Playoff.
“I was very happy at Alabama and what we were doing there and what we were building — this was not, ‘I gotta be a head coach,’ “ Kiffin said. “There’s some special things going on at Alabama, a run of 25 wins in a row.
“This (Florida Atlantic) was a unique opportunity at a place that wants to build a championship program.”
Former Tennessee assistant Kippy Brown, who worked under Kiffin for a brief time, recently ruffled feathers at a Knoxville QB club by suggesting Kiffin would still be a good fit with the Vols.
Kiffin remains regarded as a villain of sorts in Knoxville, as much for his off the field attitude and behavior as abrupt departure.
So much so that a Knoxville attorney filed official papers with the Knoxville City Council to rename a waste water treatment plant the “Lane Kiffin Sewage Center.”