Suits Them to a T

Suits Them to a T

By Chandra Harris-McCray

Even before the 7 a.m. start time, dozens of orange-clad women waited outside Neyland-Thompson Sports Center for the inaugural Lane Kiffin Football Clinic for Women. More than 200 of them traveled to Knoxville June 12 from as far away as Illinois and Florida, and they were pumped about learning the Xs and Os of Tennessee football.

Before getting down to business, the women waited in line to have their photos taken with Lane Kiffin, the Vols’ 21st head coach.

“I think Lane Kiffin has hugged the neck of every woman here this morning,” said Sandie Fancher (Health Science Center ’70), chair of the UT Alliance of Women Philanthropists, which co-sponsored the day-long clinic with the UT Athletic Department. “These coaches have died and gone to heaven.”

With one of the nation’s top-rated football recruiting classes practicing and conditioning nearby, it was the women who were in heaven as they listened intently to Kiffin and his coaching staff. Along with a handful of other Tennessee coaches, defensive coordinator and former NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin (Lane Kiffin’s father) and assistant head coach and defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron reviewed the Volunteers’ recruitment efforts, defensive and offensive plays, and rules of the game.

The season opener against Western Kentucky was Judy Brown’s 154th consecutive game. “You go to game after game, but you never really know what goes on behind the scenes,” she said.

The women’s football clinic fed her curiosity. “To get a small glimpse of all the work the coaches and team put in before a game was eye-opening. Everything from listening to the coaches to running out on the field — it was all special,” said Brown, who recorded notes from the day to share with her husband Earl (Chattanooga ’88). The Louisville, Tennessee, couple has had season tickets since 1972.

Layla and Lane KiffinKiffin’s wife, Layla, offered her perspective of what it means to be a coach’s wife during a question-and-answer session. She shared the story of how she met her husband-to-be in 2000 while working in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ office.

“Lane came in my office and pretended he needed help finding the marketing director,” she said. “And I thought ‘I better be nice to him’ because I knew he was the son of Monte Kiffin [who spent the last 13 years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers].” Three months later they were engaged and have since added three children to the clan.

She said, “We have lots of orange and are so proud to be here and be part of the UT family.”

With shouts of “Go Big Orange!” and “Go Vols!” the women reveled in what the football team experiences on game day with a police-escorted Vol Walk across campus to the Peyton Manning Locker Complex.

After being schooled on state-of-the-art protective football gear in a locker room demonstration by the equipment staff and Vol players Eric Berry and Montario Hardesty, the women yelled their best cheers and huddled for pep talks and game day speeches.

Cynthia Robertson (Knoxville ’97) managed to get Monte Kiffin to hold a piece of paper that wished her mother-in-law “Happy Birthday” while she snapped a picture. Her mother-in-law, Judy Robertson, wanted to attend the clinic but was not able to because of a mission trip in Florida. “I wanted her to feel like she was part of this experience,” Cynthia Robertson said.

Robertson came with her girlfriends Beverly Bacon and Karen Fultz. They said they would bring a bandwagon of friends next year because “this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Chanting “War time! Take it outside!” the women did not let their memorabilia-stuffed goodie bags and purses bog them down as they burst through the locker room doors and ran to the 50-yard line where Lane Kiffin ended the day by thanking the women for their passion for Tennessee football.

Cynthia Robertson called her mother-in-law on her cell phone, then handed the phone to Kiffin.

“We’re standing out here on the 50-yard line. We miss you. Why aren’t you here?” the coach asked after he offered birthday greetings.

“You’ll be here next year, right? I want to see you then.”

The clinic is planned again for next June. You can get information from the Tennessee Fund Office at (865)974-1218.