As Tennessee again finds itself engulfed in flames, Lane Kiffin waits by his phone

I can't believe I'm writing this, but Lane Kiffin would bring stability to Tennessee right about now.

Incredibly, the Boy King who made Vols fans cringe at the term "one-and-done" resembles more of a rock for Tennessee to lean on than the rock-star coach image he has cultivated.

Seriously. This is not to trivialize what transpired between Greg Schiano and the Vols during an unprecedented Sunday. It's not to overlook what Schiano may or may not have known in the Jerry Sandusky case while at Penn State.

It's a realization of where Tennessee stands at the moment. In a silly season that includes the most SEC openings in 71 years, the return of Chip Kelly and the firing of Texas A&M's most successful coach in 20 years, one truth had emerged even before the Schiano drama played out.

There weren't going to be enough home-run hires to go around. Some Power Five or another was going to be left hanging. Tennessee continues to be that school.

Even if Schiano had ducked the politicized, frenzied, group drive-by that got him Sunday, he wasn't that home run. Not even close.

His effort at Rutgers from 2001-11 was admirable, but his record was mediocre. The same can be said for his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As Ohio State's defensive coordinator, Schiano is completing his fourth year away from being a head coach.

Tennessee would have been getting a square-jawed, no-nonsense guy who had a double-nickel hung on his defense this season by Iowa.

Amazingly, with Kiffin, Tennessee would know exactly what it is getting. Quirky, cocky and tweet-obsessed beats national political firestorm any day.

Oh yeah, and Kiffin is a proven winner as a college coach. As Lane himself likes to point out, his career winning percentage (.642) is similar to that of Brian Kelly at Notre Dame (.677).

Making it to a second year with Kiffin looks like a safer bet than trying to make it to Monday with Schiano.

Meanwhile, Florida was landing a link back to its national championship legacy in Dan Mullen. UCLA was the lucky winner of the Chip Kelly sweepstakes. That supposedly opened the door to Scott Frost going home to Nebraska.

Even Arizona State is looking good with the possibility of landing Kevin Sumlin. Tennessee? Ruth's Chris ran out of filets. The local Chevy dealer missed its latest Corvette delivery.

Someone has to eat hamburger and drive a Malibu.

Listen up, Vols. Kiffin wants to drive your car. Again. He'd tell you that, I bet.

All Tennessee has to do is call him. A coach who played the Vols like a violin for one season in 2009 before bolting for USC looks like the voice of reason these days. Can all be forgiven?

Kiffin's return might result in an equal and opposite reaction to what Schiano received on Sunday -- more like a ticker-tape parade than a protest streamed on Facebook Live.

At best, Tennessee failed to understand the gravity of the allegation against Schiano, as spurious as it might be. It had been out there for years that former Penn State assistant Mike McQueary testified that defensive coordinator Tom Bradley told him Schiano saw "something" in regards to Sandusky's heinous criminal acts.

Except that both Bradley and Schiano deny that assertion. What we're left with is a second-hand allegation, a game of high-stakes hearsay telephone that never had any legs until it became popular, for some, to piggyback.

No one knows how many fans latched onto the protest merely to knock down what they thought was a bad hire. There had to be some -- at least.

For the record, CBS Sports has learned Schiano was vetted on the Penn State allegations to the satisfaction of both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee.

A man's reputation, then, twisted in the wind. This distasteful episode is not nearly over. What sort of protest will there be, if any, when Ohio State plays Saturday in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis?

What does Ohio State do about Schiano now? Does he ever coach again?

Tennessee's reputation being sullied is somewhere down the list.

What we're left with is a controversy that, in a few short hours, was being commented on by the White House press secretary. Proof once again of what this country has become. Somewhere out there is a version of everyone's own personal truth.

Sandusky's victims are scarred for life. But whether Schiano knew about any of it is a subject of significant conjecture.

Tennessee's lack of judgment may continue to set the program back for years. Whoever becomes the permanent guy better not have so much as a parking ticket. Vols fans these days tend to vote with their picket signs.

It seems almost charming that all Kiffin had at Tennessee was a half dozen minor NCAA violations for calling out Urban Meyer. Somewhere the Boy King has to be laughing.

Tennessee needs him. He needs Tennessee.

Life is good at FAU but not as good as it could be back in the big time, in the Power Five, at Tennessee.

The man the Vols used to hate can be the legitimate coaching savior Tennessee is still looking for.   

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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