It has been a long time since USC has landed a player from Tennessee — the Trojans inked Goodpasture (Nashville, Tenn.) star wide receiver Patrick Turner in 2005.
With Lane Kiffin at the helm of the Trojans, it could be a long spell before USC lands another top recruit from the Volunteer State.
High school coaches around the state were as shocked as Vols fans at the announcement of Kiffin’s departure.
With Jonny Majors guiding the Vols for 16 years and Phillip Fulmer spending 17 years at the helm, Kiffin’s one-year stint sent shock waves through the state’s high school football community.
“We were at a basketball game last night, against our rival, Trinity Christian Academy (Jackson, Tenn.) coach Mike Hodum said. "Everyone was looking down at their phones checking the internet. It was like the game stopped. As soon as it happened, everyone knew it.”
Hodum said Kiffin’s short tenure broke recent precedent and stunned people all over the state.
“I’ve been coaching high school football in Tennessee for 16 years and the thing about it is, we’re big on loyalty here,” he said. “Jonny Majors was there so long, then Phillip Fulmer was there forever. To say the state is in shock? Yes.”
Hodum said that Kiffin had been recruiting Trinity Christian Academy star athlete Jabriel Washington, who had actually planned to visit the school some time this week. Washington had not been recruited by Pete Carroll’s USC staff, but had been hearing from several Pac-10 schools.
Enworth (Nashville, Tenn.) head coach Ricky Bowers said that Kiffin’s stay was too short for high school coaches to develop any type of relationship with him. It was not too short, however, to elicit strong emotions.
“He hadn’t been here long enough to get to know,” he said. “At best, he created a sense of hope, and probably at worst, had enough time to make people mad or sad.”
One of Bowers’ top players, two-way lineman Antonio Richardson, could end up being the state’s top recruit next year. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Richardson was also recruited by Kiffin at Tennessee, and could join Washington in being recruited nationwide in 2011. It’s not clear if Kiffin will try to pursue him at USC.
Bowers disagree with the notion that Kiffin was disloyal toward the Vols.
“When a coach leaves for something that he perceives better for him, it’s hard to argue with that, knowing that if it didn’t go well for him, he’d be fired. It’s a two-way street,” he said, noting that Majors and Fulmer were essentially forced out.
Still, the prevailing sentiment appears to be a strong backlash against Kiffin.
“The perception is real, real negative,” said Alcoa head coach Gary Rankin, who guided the Tornadoes to a 15-0 season and a 3A state title. “You heard everything from a traitor to a coward to a fake. It’s pretty sad for some of those kids. I always tell my kids to go there for the school, not the coach.”
However, Rankin questioned the idea that this would hurt Kiffin if he ever tried to recruit a player from Tennessee to USC down the road.
“I think if he would have gone somewhere locally, it might have a big effect on him coming back into Tennessee,” he said. “But being that far away, I just don’t think it will have an effect on him, since they won’t be here much.”
Hodum said it’s important to ensure that throughout the entire recruiting process, the high school players' welfare remain paramount.
“My loyalty is to Jabriel Washington, and I am going to do what is in his best interest," he said. "My job as a football coach is to help kids be better people in life. We are by no means going to shut the door on the USC staff now that Lane Kiffin is going out there.”