KINGSPORT — Monday’s Big Orange Caravan mini-circuit gave new Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin the opportunity to introduce himself to fans across East Tennessee.
Meanwhile, another football player for the Volunteers said goodbye. Wide receiver Ahmad Paige told both the Knoxville News-Sentinel and Volquest.com that he will transfer from UT, and Kiffin confirmed as much during the caravan’s stop at Allandale Mansion Monday evening.
Paige, a fleet-footed wideout from Monroe, La., becomes the 10th departure from the team since Kiffin was hired in December. Four players were dismissed by the coach, while six more left by choice.
“Understand this. I didn’t come in with the mind-set that we’ve got to run people out of here. That wasn’t it at all,” Kiffin said. “If no one left, that’d be great. We didn’t want people just to leave. But with that being said, most of the time when change happens, regardless of what was done before or what the change is, this happens sometimes.”
Paige seems to be leaving the program on very good terms.
“We really wish Ahmad the best. I think Ahmad’s a great, great kid and I’ve really enjoyed being around him,” said Kiffin, whose relationship with Paige dated back to the receiver’s initial recruitment when Paige was at Sterlington High School and Kiffin was on the Southern California staff.
“Sometimes it’s good to get closer to home just for a change and so I think he’s decided, he’s kind of narrowed down a couple of places closer to where he’s from and hopefully he’ll do really well,” Kiffin said.
It appears there will be few restrictions on where Paige can go next — which has not been the case with prior departures like quarterback B.J. Coleman and tailback Lennon Creer.
“We’ll look at each individual case differently,” Kiffin said. “I haven’t decided that exactly. We’ll be very lenient on where he can go, yeah.”
Monday’s tour, which also included stops in Greeneville and Sevierville, ended the instate itinerary for the Big Orange Caravan. Sellouts have been a regularity and the eagerness of the fan base to meet the new guy in charge of the football program has been a key factor in the increased attendance.
“I don’t make Tennessee football and our players don’t. The fans do with their support,” Kiffin said. “It’s been really valuable to me, especially having not done this before and not having worked at Tennessee before. It’s been great. I get to ride with the rock star Bruce Pearl in the big tour van. That’s fun too.”
“It was my goal to be the least popular coach in the SEC and I managed to do it in about a year, and Lane’s managed to do it in about a week,” said Pearl, the men’s basketball coach. “So he is way ahead of me.”
While Kiffin has been pressing the flesh, his staff has been logging the frequent-flyer miles wooing potential members of the 2010 recruiting class. Ed Orgeron, the assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator, currently spearheads that effort with head coaches forbidden from getting out and recruiting this time of year.
Even with that restriction, Kiffin still is far from settled into his new haunts.
“That’s still a work in progress,” the coach acknowledged. “People always ask me something about, where are you going to live? I don’t even know the streets’ names in Knoxville, except where every coach has a street named after them on campus — I know that much — and Peyton (Manning).”
Little things, like finding a permanent place to live, have been pushed to the side. Kiffin did note that his wife and children would be in Knoxville for good later this week.
Even with that, the work will continue.
“It’s just a constant effort to maximize our team’s potential,” Kiffin said.