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What Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley have in common

Derek Dooley and Lane Kiffin take special teams’ preparation to the extreme. 

Dooley, who served as Nick Saban’s special teams coordinator at LSU, takes as much pride in special teams as any coach in the country. Just listen to his press conferences. Better yet, watch the Vols practice or watch Dooley’s sideline reaction to poor special teams execution. It kills the guy.

Kiffin, when hired at Tennessee, went out and hired arguably the best special teams coordinator in the country, Eddie Gran, who had served as Auburn’s special teams coordinator for years under Tommy Tuberville. When Lane took over at USC, Gran had already joined Jimbo Fisher’s staff at Florida State, so Kiffin turned to former Fresno State special teams coordinator John Baxter.

On the day of Baxter’s hiring, Kiffin said, "Hiring John Baxter is something that I thought could probably never happen, so this is a great day for USC. Having him here will be huge for our team on and off the field. He put together a 13-year run of special teams at Fresno State that were better than any in the country.”

Shortly after August practice began at USC, Kiffin said, "We hired the best guy in the country by going out to get John Baxter and his resume proves that. I can already tell a difference in the emphasis and in our players and their response. We're going to need to be good on special teams as we look at [the team] in the long run if we're going to be limited scholarship-wise with these penalties.”

The Trojans have been terrific on special teams thus far under Baxter who said yesterday, "You get what you emphasize. A special teams meeting here is not like anywhere else. We've got a lot of music and creative energy and we jump up and down. It's fun."

This week, Dooley returns to Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, a place where he once coached arguably the most dominant special teams unit (2003) in the last decade. Dooley and Saban offered no lip service about playing the best players. In fact, All-SEC wide receiver Michael Clayton and BCS Championship MVP Justin Vincent ran down on kick-off coverage just to give you an idea.

The challenge against LSU on special teams in enormous. Dooley’s team at Tennessee, without question, doesn’t have the depth on special teams he would like due to attrition. 

Not only outmanned personnel-wise, but LSU play-maker Jai Eugene says the Tigers are feeding off the home crowd during kick-off coverage. Eugene told the LSU student newspaper, "The more the crowd gets into it, the more we get into it ... the more sense of urgency to run down the field and try to take somebody's head off and try to make a big play for the team. The coaching staff, the whole team knows [that] if you're on kickoff team here, it's a lot of pride."

It also put the Vols at a disadvantage when #7 is returning punts for the Tigers. Dooley said on Monday, “If we serve one up to him (Patrick Peterson), it will be the fastest 6 points you’ve ever seen. I promise you.”

Not to say that Tennessee is going out-play LSU on special teams, but the Tennessee faithful should be happy knowing they have a head coach that will die trying. Should be fun watching his plan.