Fulmer: Kiffin needs to back up offseason talk


Published: Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 14, 2009 at 12:36 a.m.

The game that has been circled on Florida calendars since the names Lane Kiffin and Nu’Keese Richardson were first mentioned in the same breath is finally here.

This week, top-ranked Florida will not have to feign disinterest in the Tennessee Volunteers. There will be no obligatory words of praise for Charleston Southern or Troy to mask the Gators’ passions toward their Southeastern Conference opener at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

There has been bad blood since the two stopped grazing one another every few years and were matched together at the dawn of SEC divisional play in 1992.

Strangers became instant rivals, and the September game became a launching pad for SEC East supremacy.

Steve Spurrier annually poked the Vols and Phil Fulmer, and every three years or so — on average — Fulmer countered by biting the Gators. And the coaches became as much the face of the rivalry as the players.

Kiffin succeeded Fulmer, who was shown the door after last season’s 5-7 debacle, but with a 17-year record of 152-52.

Kiffin’s offseason bravado has included claims he will put Tennessee football “on the map,” and shots at Spurrier and South Carolina, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Florida coach Urban Meyer, who Kiffin openly accused of cheating before having the NCAA handbook re-read to him.

Now 1-1 after a shellacking of Western Kentucky and Saturday’s home loss to UCLA, Kiffin is about to get the meeting with Meyer and the 2-0 Gators he desires as the SEC on CBS returns for its 2009 debut on Saturday afternoon at the Swamp.

“You know everybody has the chance to do things their way,” said Fulmer, who is about to be unveiled as a CBS studio analyst. “We were very pleased with what we were able to accomplish during the majority of our time at Tennessee, and we did it without having to be brash and so on. But this is his style, what he thought he had to do.

“We didn’t have a very good season last year. I certainly take full responsibility for that. And now it’s (Kiffin’s) turn to do it as he thinks he needs to do it. But the problem in this league is you’re going to play great football teams every week once you get into the Southeastern Conference schedule. So, if you’re going to be brash, you’d better be able to back it up.”

With Kiffin at the offensive helm, Southern California was derailed on its way to an expected BCS Championship game berth in 2006, losing a 13-9 decision to UCLA to open the door for Meyer to win his first national title at UF. On Saturday, that same UCLA program beat a Kiffin squad, 19-15, at Neyland Stadium.

Fulmer had a national title and nine 10-or-more-win seasons during his Tennessee tenure, though just a 5-12 record against the Gators, including a 3-11 mark against Spurrier and Meyer combined.

“Tennessee has a good football team,” Fulmer said. “They have a lot of good football players returning. They have their issues, certainly, at different positions, but they’re not a bad team at all if they play to the level that they should.”

Fulmer has been a large target for opposing fans over the years, but the former Tennessee offensive guard, assistant and head coach has been around SEC football for more than half his 59 years.

CBS studio host Tim Brando recognizes his new analyst’s credentials, and is quick to back Fulmer as the network begins the new season.

“I think in a lot of ways Phil Fulmer was guilty of one thing, and that was hanging around and being successful for a long period of time,” Brando said on Thursday. “When you do that, you have a tendency of saying some of the same things in the preseason and during the season. And in my estimation, the thing Lane Kiffin, to this point, has done is energize the base, which right now in this economy is what big-time business and big-time college football is about.

“It’s sort of what Sarah Palin did for the Republican ticket. Maybe not get more votes, but energize the base of the Republican party. It doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily going to be successful, but if that’s what (Tennessee) wanted to do when they hired Kiffin, that’s what he was able to accomplish in the offseason. Now we’ll see how much staying power he has, and how successful he can be. He’s got a long way to go, in my view, to be as successful as Phil Fulmer.”

Fulmer and the rest of America will be there to witness the progress of the Kiffin Project on Saturday.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top