Consider this story by Stewart Mandel, one of Sports Illustrated's college football writers. In it, he declares Lane Kiffin the "Most Hated Man in College Football, and he justifies it thus:
If some other coach pulled the same move, the news likely would have come and gone without a second notice -- but not if you're Lane Kiffin, the Most Hated Man In College Football*. (* -- I've reduced his title in deference to LeBron James and John Calipari.) Surely he's noticed by now that even the slightest hint of mischief on his part is going to offend someone -- which in turn offends the entire country. [Emphasis mine]
So what are you saying, Stewart -- that the presence of Calipari and LeBron James are all that's keeping Kiffin from getting the moniker of the most hated man in all of sports?
Most Kentucky fans probably scratch their heads a little bit over why Kiffin is allegedly so disliked. I think it is mostly due to the perception that Kiffin has the "silver spoon" strike against him, and it's easy to understand why Volunteer fans would not be pleased with him after he fled Knoxville after only one year as head coach to take the USC job in spite of the prospect of NCAA sanctions.
Think about that for a moment -- what if a UK head coach left Kentucky to coach at, say, North Carolina when the Tar Heels were about to go on probation. Think that might sting a little bit? I'm thinking that hypothetical coach would be so universally loathed by the Big Blue Nation that it would make Pitino winding up at Lousiville seem a pale reflection by comparison.
So Tennessee's loathing of Kiffin is understandable, and the Titans filing a silly lawsuit is also an understandable pean to the football fans of the Volunteer state, of which there are very many. It may even be understandable that fans of other sports dislike Kiffin due to his penchant for sticking his foot in his mouth, his somewhat off-putting demeanor and almost incomprehensible mumbling on television as well as the aforementioned "silver spoon" thing. Kiffin has risen to the top of college football coaching jobs without doing any of the usual things required, particularly coaching winning football teams:
Which only goes to show how remarkable it is that Lane Kiffin, with a career record of 12-21 as a head coach, is the most despised man in American sports.
So I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, that Mandel has delivered to us an insult without even the least conception of why that might be. Calipari may be justifiably loathed for many reasons, a partial list of which would seem to include some mandatory qualifications such as:
- Winning a lot (green-eyed envy);
- Fearlessly ignoring his detractors (green-eyed envy in disguise);
- Association with a despised team or program (green-eyed envy in disguise);
- NCAA investigations of his former programs (impression of lawlessness and cheating);
- Coaching at major rivals (In Calipari's case, both Louisville and Tennessee while he was at Memphis) (sports-legitimate);
- An offensive reference to another team or league (sports-legitimate);
- An unapologetic self-promoting style (green-eyed envy in disguise).
But Kiffin? With a 12-21 record as head coach? Does he even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with Calipari or James, both who come by their spite "honestly?"
Perhaps all this is mitigated by USC's success over the recent decade, very little of which had anything to do with Lane Kiffin. But his association with that program no doubt adds some fuel to the fire -- many college fans would despise whoever wound up at the head of the USC Trojans, particularly fans of the UCLA Bruins and California Golden Bears.
Overall, though, I don't think Kiffin deserves to be as hated as Mandel and others claim he is. He hasn't earned it yet.