It is rather simple: Lane Kiffin should defend himself by telling the NCAA that he was only doing what he was hired to do, and that he had the full support of the Tennessee community - from the fans and boosters to the administration - the whole time that he was there. Kiffin SHOULD NOT allow Tennessee to get away with the idea that "we warned him and he did it anyway" or that "he failed to monitor the program."
Let me be honest: I am not a USC fan. I am also certainly not a Lane Kiffin fan, and am very glad that the guy is out of the SEC. (That said, I believe that Kiffin will do very well for himself at USC ... I just hope it won't be at the SEC's expense.) But I really don't want Tennessee to get away with claiming that Kiffin came in and ran amok.
Well, actually, Kiffin DID come in and run amok. The issue is that he did it because he was encouraged to and allowed to. Nothing that Kiffin did was a secret. It was fully known to everybody. And fans and media from other SEC programs denounced it from day one ... predicting that this day was going to come because of the obvious, flagrant violations. Other SEC coaches and adminstrators, the SEC office, even the NCAA itself issued warning after warning. (The SEC office even created "the Kiffin rule.")
And what happened? Tennessee closed ranks around Kiffin. More than that, they rallied behind the guy! They took the position "if everyone is so mad at him, it is obviously because he is a better coach than they are, and is doing something right ... something that they wish they thought of first!" Tennessee fans actually began passing around the idea that there was some grand SEC/NCAA conspiracy to force Tennessee to fire Kiffin before he could build the Vols into a better program than Florida and Alabama. (Why the SEC or the NCAA would favor Florida and Alabama over Tennessee or anybody else is a question that you have to ask the Volunteer faithful to answer.)
The main thing isn't the support that Kiffin got when he was beseiged by media, SEC and NCAA criticism from delusional Volunteer fans. Instead, it is the support that he got from the Tennessee administration. Kiffin was never reprimanded or told to change a thing by the Tennessee president, athletics director or compliance office. Since the "people who mattered" were fine with what Kiffin was doing, there was no reason for him to change. The only thing that ever caused Kiffin to back off - a little - was a hefty fine from the SEC office. But it wasn't anything from the athletics director, president or compliance office to the effect of "hey, Lane, can you cut it out with the secondary violations?" Quite the contrary, the university president and the athletics director publicly and repeatedly backed Lane Kiffin every step of the way.
It was no "Lane Kiffin failing to monitor." Instead, it was "Lane Kiffin was encouraged to push the envelope and bend the rules by the Tennessee administrators and university climate/culture." Now did Lane Kiffin commit wrongdoing? Of course. But he was put in place by people who wanted him to do so, encouraged him to do so, rewarded him for doing so, and defended his doing so. Please note that now that Kiffin is at USC with an athletics director and president that insists on adhering to NCAA regulations (as well as expecting one to behave maturely in public), he hasn't had a bit of trouble. No secondary violations, not even the barrage of insults at competing coaches.
Tennessee hired Kiffin to act like a brat and a delinquent and he did so. Kiffin gave Tennessee exactly what they wanted from the job ... someone who would do whatever it took to get players, and who would talk trash to Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban ... some bizarre combination between football coach and professional wrestling promoter. Even when Kiffin publicly challenged the NCAA, claiming that secondary violations "aren't really violations" and dared the NCAA to punish the Vols based on them without going after everybody else - especially Florida and Alabama - Tennessee backed him!
So, yes, punishments should come down based on the violations that Lane Kiffin committed at Tennessee. But the bulk of the punishment should go to the university that hired Kiffin to be the sort of coach that Kiffin was for that school ... precisely the sort of coach that Tennessee wanted. Tennessee folks convinced themselves that Florida, Alabama, LSU and Georgia were dirty, and the only way to beat them was to hire a "bad guy" coach who was willing to be even dirtier. They found their man - who incidentally was just an actor playing the character (or caricature) that Tennessee fans wanted - and now they want to distance themselves from it? Yeah, sure.
Granted, Kiffin should be punished for his role in this, because no one forced him to take the job in the first place. So, he shouldn't get off totally free. But Kiffin's punishment should be MINOR. The REAL punishment has to be on the University of Tennessee. Because had Kiffin not taken the job, then another guy would have, and he would have done the same thing because that was the job description. The only difference: that guy would still be Tennessee's head football coach, and the Vols wouldn't have such an easy scapegoat.
Kiffin bears some responsibility, but it is very small. The vast majority of the responsibility is owned by the Tennessee administration, alumni, boosters and fans who created this situation and the climate. They are the ones who should pay most of the bill.
And no, I am not a Tennessee hater. Instead, I was cheering for the Vols when they beat FSU for the 1998 national title. I am just sick of seeing the same Volunteer fans and administrators who spent nearly a year and a half defending and supporting everything that they hired Kiffin to do (and that is the key here, everything that Kiffin did he was hired to do it so that he could beat Florida and Alabama!) now claim that it was all Kiffin's idea and all his fault from day one.