Meet Lane Kiffin, or Al Davis in training

by | Columnist

The Tennessee Titans-USC (read: Lane Kiffin) lawsuit is yet one more reminder why Kiffin's scorched-sport policy, while completely suicidal, is so much fun to watch.

Lane Kiffin wants to be feared by those in his employ, just like former boss Al Davis. (Getty Images)  
Lane Kiffin wants to be feared by those in his employ, just like former boss Al Davis. (Getty Images)  
As you know, the Titans sued USC and Kiffin specifically for boosting Titans running backs coach Kennedy Pola in apparent contravention of Pola's contract with the Titans. And while the suit itself won’t be adjudicated for a good year or so (credit Clay Travis of AOL Fanhouse for the helpful legal backgroundery), we’re not all that interested in who wins anyway.

What we enjoy is Kiffin's absolutely mad dash to be the man he once shared a hatefest with -- Al Davis.

In other words, he wants to be hated by all people not currently in his employ, and if he can manage it in time, to be feared by those in his employ. There is no other explanation for the number of ways he seeks out the disapproval of others, and how swiftly he achieves it.

Unless Kennedy Pola is the greatest assistant coach of all time, and even if he is, Kiffin has picked yet one more fight for the sheer erotic appeal of picking the fight. Yes, Pola left for a promotion (he is slated to be USC’s offensive coordinator if and when a judge says he can), and slavery was outlawed except in amateur and professional sports 147 years ago.

But there are two principles involved here that work against much sympathy for Pola. He didn't ask Titans head coach Jeff Fisher for permission, and he went to work for Kiffin. The first is a breach of etiquette; the second is choosing sides with The New Al.

Kiffin won't like the comparison, and neither will Davis, but they both operate by wetting a finger to check the wind -- a middle finger. They like the way watching other people turn purple makes them feel; schadenfreude with a scoop of lye for that extra fizz.

In fact, it's perfect that the two of them are still adversaries two years after the most unholy marriage in recent NFL history was dissolved with an overhead projector. Davis in his prime used vision and guile; Kiffin in his used speed and brass. But they are still the same guy -- they want what they want when they want it, and they actually prefer stealing it to simply acquiring it.

Kiffin has been the head coach at USC for 196 days, and even after you siphon off a few days here to deal with the fallout from enraging the entire state of Tennessee and a few days there to regroup after the NCAA awoke from its money-counting torpor to put SC on probation, that leaves a good six months when he could have addressed his need for Pola’s counsel.

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He spoke with Tampa Bay OC Greg Olson in February. He negotiated without success with Norm Chow a month earlier. Former offensive coordinator Todd McNair's contract expired at the end of June, so even at that, Kiffin had nearly four full weeks to call Fisher and ask permission. If Fisher said yes, fine. If not, you get someone else.

But no, Kiffin wanted Pola, and contract language was not to be an impediment. How more Davis can you get?

So he grabbed him, and Fisher did what any good Tennessee fan (the pro or college variety) would want him to do. He pitched a nutty, and then he threw lawyers at Kiffin, who was too busy driving away with one hand on the wheel and the other waving 20 percent of goodbye.

You know, the 20 percent in the middle of the hand.

This makes Kiffin the modern-day version of the man who gave him his first real taste of litigation. If Davis weren't so directly involved, he might actually admire the kid’s gumption, albeit through clenched teeth.

The problem with living outside the law, however, is that you are no longer able to enjoy its protection, and Kiffin is working the Public Enemy Number One thing a little hard. It borders, indeed, on pathology, but we are neither trained nor interested in psychology.

Except for this: He did torque off Davis for the final time by calling for a 76-yard field goal attempt in his final game with the Raiders. It, and he, fell short.

But as the guy you would white-out Pol Pot's name to hate, he is the undisputed king. We were going to say that Kennedy Pola better be worth it, but we suspect it doesn’t really matter whether he is or not. Making that vein stand out in Jeff Fisher's head is reward enough.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast Sports Bay Area in San Francisco


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