Kiffin trying to fit in SEC
Published: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 at 4:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 at 4:24 p.m.
SANDESTIN — Lane Kiffin has been one mischievous young man since taking the head coaching job at Tennessee.
In less than six months he has managed to:
* Boast that he's looking forward to singing "Rocky Top" after the Vols beat Florida in The Swamp in September.
* Take a commitment away from Florida in recruiting and and brag about it.
* Call Urban Meyer a cheater.
* Offend the town of Pahokee and question the integrity of the staff at Pahokee High School.
To all of the above (and more), Kiffin says nothing personal, I was just trying to draw attention to my school, my football program. A headline is a headline, whether it's good or bad.
That was the message Kiffin delivered at a press conference Tuesday before the start of the SEC's annual spring meetings.
All of his controversial comments were planned, he said.
"When you become a head coach, you take a specific plan into that job. Each job is different," Kiffin said. "As I looked at this one, we needed to have a spark immediately as far as national exposure.
"There aren't six-year plans anymore. We had to make an immediate impact and get players immediately. We couldn't sit back and take it easy and say we'll have a top 10 recruiting class next year. Do I love everything I had to do to get us to this point? No, I don't.
"But my job is not to love everything I do. My job is to do the best thing for our university and the best thing for our people, our fans, and our players."
Kiffin said he regretted some of the things he's said, especially calling Meyer a cheater, which he was wrong about and apologized for the same day. But he also said that his questionable methods have had a positive effect on what he cares about the most — Tennessee football.
The Vols put together a top 10 recruiting class, fan excitement seems back on Rocky Top, and the players have bought into the Kiffin way.
"Our fans, they're extremely excited," he said. "The energy on the Big Orange Caravan was great. They were all sold out. Our people are extremely motivated.
"Our players, when you do some of the things we've done, it puts it back on your players. They know you've gone out and said some things about what we're going to do. When you're working out with them at 5:30 in the morning, a couple of players will come over and say, 'Coach, we really appreciate that. It makes us want to work a lot harder because we know you have our back.' It's a motivational tool. I think our players are really motivated right now.
"If you look at kids today, I think they respond to confidence. (Recruits) talk about it a lot. They talk about the confidence they feel in the Tennessee staff, what we have our players' backs; we're not backing down. I think it's very positive. They like the energy around a program that has confidence on its staff."
Of course, now that Kiffin has stirred things up around the SEC (especially at Florida), it's now time to face those he has offended. It starts with this week's meetings, where Kiffin will be in the same room with the other 11 football coaches for hours over three days.
"I would expect everybody to be extremely professional and understand that each job is different and each of us has a different job at a different university," Kiffin said. "I wouldn't expect there would be any hard feelings. I think at the end of the day, we all understand we all have specific jobs for specific universities and it's nothing personal."
Kiffin said Tuesday he has met Meyer only twice "for about 30 seconds" and that was five years ago when Meyer was at Utah and Kiffin was an assistant at Southern Cal.
Kiffin said he does not feel the need to apologize to Meyer again this week for accusing Meyer of a recruiting violation for calling Pahokee wide receiver Nu'Keese Richardson when Richardson was on his official visit to Tennessee in January. The same day Kiffin made the accusation, the SEC revealed that it was not a violation, and Kiffin released an apology.
"I issued an apology to the SEC and to Urban and to Jeremy Foley and anybody at Florida that I may have offended," he said. "I think that's as fast as you can do something, go national with it the same day. No, (I won't say anything else to Meyer). I'm still waiting for coach (Steve) Spurrier's apology for calling me out on the first day on the job for not taking my (NCAA rules) test. I haven't gotten that, either."
Kiffin was joking about the Spurrier thing. When Kiffin first hit the recruiting trail back in December, Spurrier questioned whether Kiffin had yet taken the required NCAA test. Kiffin, in fact, had.
The two crossed paths for the first time Tuesday.
"I ran into him coming off the elevator and we talked for a minute," Kiffin said. "We're fine."
When Meyer arrived at the meetings shortly after Kiffin's press conference, he was quickly asked questions about Kiffin. Meyer chose to take the high road.
"I think it's important for the SEC that everybody be first class," Meyer said. "This is big time, the best conference in America."
Asked if it was important for all the football coaches to get along, Meyer said, "No, not at all. Do they have to represent something bigger than themselves? Absolutely.
"This is the first year I've been asked more questions about other schools than my own. That bothers me. I'm not going to do that any more. I'm going to talk about the Gators. I'm awful proud of our team."
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive stepped into the fray Tuesday when he addressed the league's football and basketball coaches at the start of the meetings. He reminded them that at these same meetings five years ago they unanimously agreed to a code of ethics in which it is unacceptable for coaches to openly criticize or question their peers.
"The focus of what we do should be on the kids," Slive said. "I emphasize that in the long-term interest of the conference. The attention should be on the reason we're here. The reason we're here is to give young women and men a chance to compete. The focus should be more on them than anyone else."
His recent comments aside, Kiffin seems confident that he will fit in with the other coaches.
"I have great respect for these coaches," he said. "There are three coaches (Meyer, Nick Saban and Les Miles) who have won national championships. The coaching talent is unbelievable in this conference.
"I'm not here to make enemies. Don't get me wrong. I like to get along with everybody. As you get to know me, I think we'll get along."
Kiffin even cracked a joke near the end of his press conference.
"I did ask for adjoining rooms with Coach Meyer," he said.
He then looked at long-time Tennessee sports information director Bud Ford and said, "See, you let me go on long enough and I had to say something."
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