A dozen years later, O'Neill is a college head coach again -- this time at Southern Cal. So, how will he fare in his new gig?
Ex-Vol Rashard Lee, who played for O'Neill in 1995-96 and 1996-97, thinks his former boss has a chance to do quite well in sunny California.
"O'Neill has a lot of coaching knowledge," Lee said this week. "He's a great, knowledgeable coach. It's just a matter of how his players react to his style. If the players react (favorably), I think that'll help him and he'll be successful."
Today's players are a different breed than Lee and his teammates were 12 years ago, however. Today's players are not inclined to take a lot of intense, in-your-face coaching -- something O'Neill was known for. When reminded of this, Lee chose his words carefully.
"We're getting away from the old school; I'll say that," the former Vol said. "I think Kevin realizes that, and I'm sure he's made all of the adjustments he needs to make because he has another head coaching job."
O'Neill isn't the only high-profile coach taking on a rebuilding job this season, of course. Former Memphis coach John Calipari already has made a monumental splash in his first few months at Kentucky, Tennessee's heated SEC East rival.
Ex-Vol Dane Bradshaw, who grew up in Memphis and split two games with Calipari's Tigers during his UT career, is thrilled to see "Coach Cal" take over in Lexington.
"I'm happy that he's there," Bradshaw said. "Who doesn't want to see Calipari and Pearl twice a year? It's going to be great."