University of Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin is leaving the Volunteers after only one season to take the head coaching job at the University of Southern California, the university's athletic director announced Tuesday night.
"We are really excited to welcome Lane Kiffin back to USC," said AD Mike Garrett, who was referring to Kiffin's stint as a member of USC's coaching staff from 2001-2006. "I was able to watch him closely when he was an assistant with us and what I saw was a bright, creative young coach who I thought would make an excellent head coach here if the opportunity ever arose. I'm confident he and his staff will keep USC football performing at the high level that we expect.
Garrett did not disclose any details about Kiffin's contract.
Kiffin, 34, would replace Pete Carroll, who left to join the NFL as coach of the Seattle Seahawks amid possible NCAA sanctions against USC.
Several other potential candidates declined to be considered, including Oregon State's Mike Riley and Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio. Titans' coach Jeff Fisher, like Del Rio a USC alum, also had his name mentioned as a possible successor to Carroll.
Kiffin, whose name made the rumor rounds all day Tuesday, went 7-6 in his only season in Knoxville, losing badly in the Chick-fil-A Bowl — 37-14 to Virginia Tech — on Dec. 31.
“I know that I can walk out of here and say this, that we’ve been here for 14 months and there’s not one day I didn’t give everything I had to the Tennessee football program,” Kiffin said on the UT campus during a news conference Tuesday night.
Kiffin said he only had one place he would have left Knoxville for — USC. He apparently owes UT an $800,000 buyout fee for leaving early. He told his players about his abrupt departure moments before reading his statement.
“This was not an easy decision,” he said. “We’ve been here 14 months, and the support has been unbelievable here."
His father, Monte Kiffin, an assistant coach at UT, is following his son to USC, as his Ed Orgeron, who also once served an assistant at USC.
Kiffin left USC to become head coach of the Oakland Raiders, and his time with the Raiders was tumultuous to say the least. The team struggled and he feuded with owner Al Davis, before being replaced four games into the 2008 season. He was hired by Tennessee later that year.
“I want to thank coach Kiffin for his work with our program this past year,” Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said. “We have already begun a search for the new head football coach of the Tennessee Volunteers, and we’ll complete this process as quickly as possible to put the right person in place to lead our great football program forward in the months and years ahead.”
Kiffin's stay at UT was a short and stormy one, raising the eyebrows of SEC counterparts with brash predictions of how quickly the Volunteers would return to contention. The football program came under more scrutiny in November when three of Kiffin’s prized recruits were arrested in connection with an armed robbery in Knoxville.
All three players were suspended from the team and two — Nu’Keese Richardson and Mike Edwards — were eventually dismissed by Kiffin. Richardson, on Monday pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of attempted robbery.