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Lane Kiffin discovers fanaticism of Tennessee football

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

The new coach has quickly learned that being the coach in Knoxville is treated with the highest importance.

September 12, 2009|David Wharton

KNOXVILLE, TENN. — It took only a few hours for Lane Kiffin to realize that Tennessee wasn't like Los Angeles or Oakland or any other stop in his coaching career.

The day Kiffin was introduced as the Volunteers' coach last December, the Internet buzzed with photos of him standing beside his wife, Layla, and two university officials.

Layla, with her long blond hair and bright smile, became an instant sensation among Tennessee fans, the subject of flurried Google searches, a Facebook page called "Our Coach's Wife is Hotter Than Your Coach's Wife" and a website with a name that cannot be reprinted in the newspaper.

That's when Kiffin realized he was coaching in a fish bowl.

"It's a whole 'nother level," he said. "They are so deep into football."

Deep enough to fill almost 100,000 seats in Neyland Stadium for the season opener against lowly Western Kentucky last Saturday.

Deep enough that fans arrived three hours early, clogging the street to watch the team walk in from the bus.

"I was thinking to myself, man, he must have all kinds of butterflies in his stomach," one fan told UT.com. "It's his first game as coach and he's stepping into something that we take to heart."

The same fervor is expected today against UCLA, though Kiffin is now accustomed to the attention by way of endless booster luncheons, radio appearances and his face on billboards all over town.

"When you get hired as coach at Tennessee, you've signed up to be all-access to the people here," he said. "You could not do this job and be that hide-in-the-back-room type of guy."

This notoriety extends to his staff, the people of Knoxville recognizing his assistants on the street. His father, Monte, who signed on as defensive coordinator, warned him it could be a wild ride.

"The good news is, you're the head coach at Tennessee," the elder Kiffin said. "The bad news is, have you checked the schedule?"

The son knows his rebuilding team could hit some bumps, and, if nothing else, he worries about how that might affect his three children.

The fans know about them, too. There was much made of Kiffin's naming his youngest child, born shortly after he took the job, Monte Knox Kiffin. The boy will go by "Knox."

"If we go through some tough times," Kiffin said, "you worry about other kids saying something to them at school."

As for the continuing fascination with his wife, the family has turned that into a joke.

Most of the supposedly sexy photos that circulated on the Internet were cropped.

"You can't really tell," Kiffin said. "She was eight months pregnant."

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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