I'll be honest here: it's been a long, long time since I was all that interested in the goings-on at Tennessee all. Oh, I kept up with the Vols as much as anyone would--major SEC program and all that--but with Auburn's annual series with UT becoming an ever distant memory, Fulmer's 1998 national championship fading further and further into the background, characters like Miles and Saban and Nutt running around elsewhere in the league, and the SEC's definitive players of the last several years--Grossman, Greene, Cadillac/Brown, McFadden, Dorsey, Tebow--all plying their trade elsewhere, it's not like Tennessee's given Auburn fans any particular reason to pay attention to them. Ever since Tee Martin left, they've been that good SEC East team we beat every few years and not a whole lot more than that. Sorry, Vols.
That all changed this offseason, though, when Auburn looked in the mirror and suddenly saw a bright orange-clad, Rocky Top-singin', Eric Berry-worshippin' doppelganger staring back. By now, you're no doubt familiar with the multitude of similarities between the programs: despite increasing difficulties on the recruiting trail and some jarring 2007 losses, both entered 2008 with high expectations for their successful long-tenured head coaches and their new offensive coordinator hires. Unfortunately, both new offenses exploded in spectacularly craptacular fashion, resulting in a string of embarrassing losses, acrimonious squabbling within the fanbase, and eventually the departure of the long-tenured head coach. The programs responded by both hiring young coaches with plenty of successful coordinator's experience but rocky--to say the least--and ulitmately unsuccessful tenures at their previous head coaching gigs. Neither school paid what might be termed the SEC's "market value" for their new head coaches, but made up for it by quickly hiring a roster of highly-paid and well-respected assistants that have generated widespread optimism within the fanbase despite general media skepticism regarding the new head man. Also, both teams despise Alabama.
There are, obviously, a lot of differences in the two programs' narratives--Tubby's departure and Chizik's hiring were received with much more anger than Fulmer's and Kiffin's, the Vols' spending has been both more wanton and more scrutinized, the skepticism regarding Kiffin centers on his mouth and general callowness rather than his record, a la Chizik--but the similarities these days seems a heck of a lot more compelling. Which is why it's time for a TOTALLY UNBIASED source like the JCCW to decide using a SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN OBJECTIVE METHOD which program should really be happier with their coaching staff.
How? STAFF-OFF! We'll break it down position-by-position and tally everything up at the end. Starting with ...
Chizik vs. Kiffin
Not that I'm the first person to notice this, but the resumes here are exceedingly similar for one guy mostly greeted as a smart hire and another mostly greeted as the worst hire since Bill Stewart, and maybe even worse than that. That difference in opinion was probably powered by a) the general media preference for offensive coaches over defensive b) that Chizik's head coaching failures came at the college level rather than the NFL. You won't find any argument here that the pro and college games are different enough that Chizik's ISU failures should count against him more than Kiffin's in Oakland do against him; if that was all we had to go on, then I'd agree Tennessee has the edge here, since most of the reports out of Ames have described Chizik as a not-particularly-sound game manager and Kiffin's youth and obvious zeal for recruiting may give him an advantage there.
But that's not all we have to go on. We have their years spent as assistants, Kiffin under Chow and Carroll at USC and Chizik under tubby and Mack Brown. It's fair to call both wildly successful by the numbers: Chizik had the whole "two years undefeated" thing, Kiffin had the unstoppable 2005 USC juggernaut. However, I think it's fair to point out the situation Kiffin found himself at USC: namely, running the Trojan offense as constructed by Chow, one of the game's truly great offensive minds, and as executed by Leinart, Bush, White, and what's generally considered the greatest collection of offensive talent the college game has seen this decade. The odds of Kiffin failing in that situation were basically nil. The following season, despite playing in the Pac-10 and the Trojan offense still being loaded for bear--I mean, c'mon, it's USC--Kiffin's offense slipped to 26th in the country in yards-per-play, .1 yards ahead of such noted offensive juggernauts as TCU, Iowa, and Vanderbilt.
Meanwhile, while Chizik obviously had some very good players at his disposal and the oversight of Tommy Tuberville at Auburn, he never had anything like the machine Kiffin was handed the keys to ... and produced similar results, for longer. Maybe it's the Auburn fan talking, but I think Chizik's record as a coordinator is stronger than what Kiffin has to offer.
Which--along with the general uncertainty of how well either guy will do as the HC of a major SEC program--leads me to conclude neither side has a declared advantage here.
Malzahn vs. Chaney
In case you missed it, Kiffin hired St. Louis Rams assistant offensive line coach and tight ends coach Jim Chaney as the Vols' offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. As unimpressive as "St. Louis Rams assistant offensive line coach and tight ends coach" might be, the real hook for Chaney is his time at Purdue: he was OCing for Joe Tiller during the Drew Brees/Rose Bowl glory years.
However: how much of the credit for those Boilermaker offenses should go to Chaney and how much belongs to Tiller is--at the very least--open to debate. It might not matter, since Tennessee's OC won't carry nearly as much responsibility as in other programs--Kiffin will very likely be designing the offense and calling plays himself. Chaney's probably more of a line coach who just happens to have the title.
Nonetheless, he's the guy who the Vols have in the slot, to even some Vol fans' disappointment. Auburn, meanwhile, has the coach who turned Tulsa in the country's most explosive offense in two years.
Big edge: Auburn
Luper vs. Gran
Man, this is tough. On the one hand, you've got the running back coach who helped produce the likes of Rudi Johnson, Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, and Kenny Irons. On the other, you've got a guy who coached two different Oklahoma St. backs into the national top-20 in rushing--Dantrell Savage in 2007 and Kendall Hunter in 2008--and wears kick-ass orange sunglasses at all times. Both are just about the same age (though thanks to his stint in the Air Force, Luper has fewer "coaching miles" on him) and while Gran has an excellent recruiting track record, Luper has developed quite a reputation himself--both appear on this list of the SEC's best recruiters, for instance.
I think in the end you have to give a small nod to Gran on the basis of his experience and longer SEC track record, but it's awful close and both teams have to be really happy with who they've hired at this slot.
Slight edge: Tennessee
Taylor vs. Wilson
Wilson, for you Auburn fans, is Frank Wilson, who was Southern Miss's running backs coach this past season and was Orgeron's running backs coach the three seasons before that.
Taylor is ... well, hell, just for irony's sake I'll let some of the 'Net's wisest Vol fans tell you who he is. Suffice it to say Taylor will have a bigger impact on Auburn's staff than Wilson will have on Tennessee's.
Big edge: Auburn
Malzahn, sort of, vs. Reaves
Reaves is David Reaves. Here, you decide how impressive bio is:
David Reaves, a native of Columbia, S.C., and Kiffin's brother-in-law, spent the previous five seasons in various capacities under Steve Spurrier at South Carolina. He started as a graduate assistant and later became the quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator. In both 2006 and 2007, Reaves quarterbacks combined to throw for over 3,000 yards.You'll notice first that no mention is made of what became of the SC QB's in 2008. You'll also note that the QB's in question for '06 and '07 were those noted legends of the game (note: sarcasm) Blake Mitchell, Tommy Beecher, and Chris Smelley, the latter of which improved so much under Reaves's tutelage he quite the port to become a baseball player. You'll also notice he's Kiffin's brother-in-law. Cronyism: fun for the whole family!
I know, I know, I shouldn't be so snarky: by all accounts Reaves is a top-notch recruiter who was well-liked by his players. But at some point from the Vols' perspective, don't you need guys who can develop all the talent your monster recruiters bring in? The consensus on the part of SC fans and evidence on hand from Smelley's and Beecher's development is that Reaves is not that guy.
Since it doesn't seem fair to count Malzahn twice, I'll leave the Edge here blank, but due to my skepticism regarding Reaves I'm not granting Tennessee anything, either.
Grimes vs. Chaney
Who knows? Grimes comes with a good reputation from out west and had some success recruiting out there as well. But while Chaney isn't really what you'd think of as a big-time offensive coordinator, all that experience and his time in the NFL have to carry some weight as well, and he also had some success luring some NFL-quality talent to a previous sinkhole at Purdue.
If you have to pick one of these two guys to be on your staff, you probably take Chaney, but as to who's actually going to be better for their respective offensive lines ... I don't think fans of either team really have any concrete idea. Since Chaney also sort of counted in the "OC" category, I'm going to call this ...
Edge ... Even.
Boulware vs. Cregg
Jay Boulware will, as you know, split his time between special teams and the tight ends at Auburn while Tennessee will have former Raiders assistant line coach James Cregg coach their tight ends and "tackles." I'm assuming those are offensive tackles? What the hell, if Tennessee's going to double-team the offensive line and do it with a guy with NFL experience, I'll give 'em a slight nod here ... though we are talking about the guys at the tail end of the coaching roster here, so take for what it's worth. (Also: Boulware does have more college D-I coaching experience, so maybe I'm selling him short.)
OK, so, after the offense, Auburn's got a pretty big lead with two decisive edges to two much smaller ones for the Vols, including one in "Other." But you can look at the picture at the top of this post and figure out that their heavy hitters are on the other side of the ball. We'll wrap it all up in the second post.