Former Vols coach Lane Kiffin: 'Tennessee’s not that far off'

Mike Wilson
Florida Atlantic Owls head coach Lane Kiffin watches as his team warms up at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee is coming to the end of a winless October that has left many questions about coach Butch Jones’ future with the program.

But former coach Lane Kiffin said he believes the Vols aren’t “that far off” as they ride a four-game losing streak into a Saturday game against Southern Miss.

“Tennessee’s not that far off,” said Kiffin, now the head coach at Florida Atlantic, on the Tony Basilio Show on Monday. “It was only two years ago that (Alabama) went down to the wire with them. We had to throw a touchdown in the fourth quarter to beat them. Coach Jones had them rolling last year early on. They had some big wins and stuff. They’re not as far off as I think some people talk about.”

The Vols (3-5, 0-5 SEC) have lost four straight games dating back to Sept. 30 against Georgia. They host Southern Miss (5-2) at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday (SEC Network), needing to put wins together quickly to avoid missing the postseason.

More:Butch Jones understands Vol fans' frustration; 'If I was a fan, I'd be upset, too.'

Regardless of how the season’s final month unfolds, the questions about Jones’ future have likely reached a point of no return. Kiffin dodged a question about the possibility of Tennessee fans wanting to see him back in Knoxville and instead spoke about Jones getting the season turned around.

“We’re focused on the season here,” Kiffin said. “You guys got a bunch of big games left. Things happen all the time. People turn things around. People changed opinions of me. People change opinions all the time. Coach Jones gets on a roll here for a couple games and everyone will change quick. It just happened at LSU a couple weeks ago.”

Kiffin coached the Vols for one season, going 7-6 in 2009 before bolting for the head coaching position at Southern California. He spent three full seasons at USC before being fired five games into the 2013 season. He spent the next three years as the offensive coordinator at Alabama, where he was part of three College Football Playoff teams and one national championship.

More:Tennessee Vols vs. Southern Miss: How to watch, listen, livestream football game

Kiffin, who has the Owls 5-3 in his first season, likened the current situation at Tennessee to what Alabama was facing 10 years ago when it hired Nick Saban.

“They were probably having the same conversations on the radio at Alabama 10 years ago. ‘Are we relevant anymore? We’ve been down a while,’” Kiffin said. “You hire coach Saban and everything has changed. Alabama had been off for a while. …

“(Tennessee) will be back. Just a matter of time and when.”