Tom Lemming didn't know it at the time but the Chicago-based recruiting analyst was on the cutting edge of one of the most bizarre coach-swapping incidents in the history of college sports. And if you ever thought college football and basketball is motivated by anything but money and ego and greed, the Pete Carroll/Lane Kiffin story should sober you up.
Last Friday, Lemming was interviewing Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin and his two chief assistants, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, his father, and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel in San Antonio. Across the street, some of the best high school players in the nation were practicing for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl to be played on Saturday in the Alamodome.
During the interview, Lane Kiffin received a text message from a friend in California.
After the interview was over, Orgeron showed the text to Lemming.
"Pete Carroll to Seattle," it said.
It was 2 o'clock on Friday afternoon. It was the first inkling anyone had that USC coach Pete Carroll might be thinking of becoming head coach of the Seattle Seahawks.
But the machine was in motion and nothing was going to stop it. On Sunday night, it was announced that Carroll was going to Seattle. On Monday, he made it official. On Tuesday, Lane Kiffin announced he was leaving Tennessee to return to USC.
It is no coincidence that Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron were Carroll's top two recruiters at USC in 2001. "They got the ball rolling for Carroll. They started the dynasty. They brought in so many great players," Lemming said.
If that isn't enough, it was announced that offensive wizard Norm Chow, who also coached at USC for a time, was returning after a brief exile at UCLA. No wonder, then, that Proviso West coach Famous Hulbert declared the wide receiver Kyle Prater likely would be enrolling at USC next week. Devastated at the news of Carroll's departure, Prater now is excited by what he sees shaping up in the Kiffin/Chow/Orgeron program.
"It's business as usual at USC," Lemming said. "They have two great recruiters going back to recruit the most talented area in the country, southern California. No one this side of Pete Carroll himself can recruit like they can."
So forget about values, ethics, honesty, integrity and credibility. College football/basketball is a business, a cold-hearted, cut-throat, no-class and dispassionate business.
Take the money and run--Pete Carroll, Lane Kiffin, Brian Kelly, Les Miles, Nick Saban, Jimmy Johnson, Rich Rodriguez, Gary Barnett, Bob Petrino, John Calipari, Bill Self, Rick Pitino, Billy Donovan.
"It tells you that athletic directors have no loyalty to coaches and coaches have no loyalty to kids or the university," said Lemming, who has observed the recruiting process for more than 30 years. "They demand loyalty from the kids but they take the money and run every time. And the kid usually gets stuck.
"It should bother somebody when an athletic director fires a coach after one bad year after he has had 10 great years. I wonder how the athletic director at Tennessee feels, the guy who fired Phil Fulmer and hired Lane Kiffin? The integrity meter is running very low and the hypocrisy is mind-boggling."