The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Former — and future? — Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin refuses to stop trolling the Vols

In his first season at Florida Atlantic, Lane Kiffin has turned around the Owls’ struggling program. (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

As Tennessee’s search for a football coach has become increasingly shambolic, many college football fans have taken the opportunity to scoff at the school’s travails. But no one has engaged in schadenfreude quite as much as former Vols coach Lane Kiffin, who has used his active social media presence to become Tennessee’s foremost troll, taking a particularly pointed shot Wednesday.

Kiffin infamously jilted the Vols in 2010, after just one season in Knoxville, to become coach at Southern California. He spent four seasons there, then three as Alabama’s offensive coordinator before taking over Florida Atlantic’s program this year.

Kiffin’s success with the Owls, who are 9-3 after three straight 3-9 seasons, has made him a hot commodity again and even spurred the unthinkable: calls from Vols fans for him to return. Tennessee, after firing Butch Jones in October, is coming off the Greg Schiano debacle and reportedly has its sights set on N.C. State Coach Dave Doeren after failing to land Purdue’s Jeff Brohm and being rejected by Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy.

At Tennessee, no price too high, no name too big and no soap opera more melodramatic

As for the possibility of Kiffin actually getting hired by Tennessee, he told “The Dan Patrick Show” on Wednesday that he has “not talked to” the school’s athletic director, John Currie. “I’ve not thought about it at all, because John Currie never expressed any interest,” Kiffin said.

That’s not exactly a denial of any desire for the job, but Currie might be unlikely to want to bring Kiffin back, given a tweet the latter posted Tuesday. Kiffin retweeted a post that showed fans chanting “Fire Currie!” during a WWE event Monday in Knoxville, and he added the cheeky caption, “Great drop kick!!!”

Tuesday also saw Kiffin retweeting a post that showed the message “Bring Lane home” scrawled on The Rock, a giant piece of dolomite stone on Tennessee’s campus. Kiffin joked that he flew his young son, Knox, to spray-paint that phrase.

On Monday, Kiffin retweeted a post from a Tennessee TV reporter that claimed former Vols coach Johnny Majors said that Kiffin “would win if he comes back” to the Vols. That was after Kiffin linked to a report advocating that Tennessee bring him back, although he tweeted that he was “[n]ot waiting at all” for that job but getting FAU “ready to win its 9th straight.”

All the talk of Kiffin leaving FAU for Tennessee, some of it stoked by the coach himself, could conceivably create tension in the Owls’ locker room, but he maintains that it has not been a problem. Kiffin recently said to the Sun Sentinel that, when he was late to a team meeting, he told his players, “Sorry, I was on the phone with Tennessee.” He added, “That’s just kind of how we are.”

Former Vols quarterback Erik Ainge, now a sports radio host in Tennessee, did not appear to be joking around much Wednesday, when he posted a text exchange in which he insulted Kiffin and said he didn’t want the coach “to come back here.” While Kiffin seemed to take it in stride, replying, “Never said I wanted to. Ha,” some noted one can signal an intention without putting it into words.

Kiffin has also used his Twitter account to frequently take lighthearted jabs at Alabama Coach Nick Saban, with whom he reportedly parted ways on less-than-friendly terms. Of course, if Kiffin really wanted to get even with Saban, he’d need to beat the Crimson Tide on the field, and the best way to do that would be to become an SEC coach again, right?

In the meantime, Kiffin appears content to chuckle at the Vols from afar, even as he issues denials of interest in the Tennessee job that do nothing to quell speculation that he would like nothing better than to make a triumphant return to Knoxville.

Read more from The Post:

Shake-up atop College Football Playoff rankings has Alabama on outside looking in

Police: Members of Florida State fraternity jumped Seminoles’ kicker after missed field goals in 2016

No, Jason Witten is not interested in quitting the Cowboys for Tennessee job

ESPN layoffs to affect approximately 150 behind-the-scenes employees