It’s time for Lane Kiffin and the 2009 Tennessee football team to — finally — show us what they can do.
Already, Kiffin has showed plenty since replacing Phillip Fulmer as the man in charge on Rocky Top.
He’s brought greater transparency to the goings-on of the program. Every spring practice? Open. Every preseason practice? Open. Freshmen will be made available for interviews during the season for the first time in more than five years.
Kiffin also has brought a greater candor to his job than those who follow the Volunteers have been accustomed to. If you ask Kiffin a question, he’ll answer it. He might not think it’s much of a question, and respond in the according manner. He’s not been afraid to call out players in the media.
Has Kiffin altered the conditions of his transparency to fit his needs? Of course.
Practice accessibility will be constrained starting this week. It will be tougher to get interviews with assistant coaches — who won’t be available at the weekly news conferences every Tuesday during the season.
Kiffin wants his assistants working on the business of football. He’s the ringmaster. He wants his staff members focused on winning games and recruiting players.
All that is well and good, but here’s the thing.
At this point, there’s no way to know whether the Kiffin way will result in wins for the Vols.
Players, don’t tell us you’re hungry to erase the bad taste from the 5-7 season in 2008. Show it.
Don’t presume Jonathan Crompton is a better fit in Kiffin’s offense than Dave Clawson’s. Crompton has to show it, something I define by his ability to play consecutive games in which he avoids the disastrous mistake and shows sound game management.
And if Crompton can’t perform, it had better be Nick Stephens’ time at quarterback.
Kiffin already has shown his willingness to play freshmen, or walk-ons, or career backups — or anyone else he feels is the right man for a given job.
We’ll see how that formula works.
But it won’t be easy.
Florida, Alabama and Georgia all have what it takes to beat the Vols. You have to think Steve Spurrier will have some trick up his sleeve after the verbal exchanges with Kiffin. And UCLA is a bad matchup, particularly on the interior line where 260-pound center Cody Sullins has to contend with the Bruins’ very good, and large, defensive tackles.
Still, as the freshmen mature, expect these Vols to get better as the season progresses. They won’t win the Southeastern Conference or their division, but they can spoil someone’s plans for Atlanta — like Ole Miss, which hosts the Vols in the Grove on Nov. 14.
It adds up to a 7-5 season for the Vols.
Not great. But it’s a start.
John Moorehouse covers University of Tennessee football for the Times-News. E-mail him at email@example.com.