Commentary

Kiffin's mouth earns him a penalty

Updated: February 6, 2009, 10:07 AM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Whoooeeee! That 'ol boy Lane Kiffin is rattling some first-down chains in the Southeastern Conference these days, isn't he?

Kiffin hasn't even blown a whistle at Tennessee yet and already he's been reprimanded by the SEC commissioner, put in his place by the Florida athletic director and forced to apologize to a two-time national champion Gators coach -- all in the same day.

The more Kiffin opens his mouth, the more you wonder whether Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis got it right when he canned the coach four games into the 2008 season. I mean, who knew the famed Power T logo at Tennessee stood for "Talk"?

Thursday morning at a breakfast attended by more than 1,000 fans, Kiffin started stuffing his feet in his mouth. First, he said he was going to "turn Florida in right here in front of you" for violating NCAA recruiting rules. According to Kiffin, Gators coach Urban Meyer called recruit Nu'Keese Richardson during the wide receiver's visit to Knoxville.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
AP Photo/Wade PayneLane Kiffin said it was enthusiasm. Florida thought otherwise.

"Just so you know, when a recruit's on another campus, you can't call a recruit on another campus," Kiffin said. "I love the fact that Urban had to cheat and still didn't get him."

Man-made devices wouldn't have been able to measure the size of Kiffin's smirk. Problem is, Kiffin was spectacularly and laughably wrong.

He was so wrong that Florida AD Jeremy Foley issued a statement that all but called 33-year-old Kiffin a punk. He was so wrong that SEC commissioner Mike Slive publicly attached Kiffin to the clothesline and let him dangle in the wind.

"We expect our coaches to have an understanding and knowledge of conference and NCAA rules," read Slive's statement.

So far, Kiffin doesn't have an understanding of anything, including common sense. It's one thing to want to plant your school's flag into the recruiting landscape. It's another to stab your own foot doing it.

Even Kiffin's late-afternoon apology was botched. He actually tried to rationalize the fact that he had accused another coach of cheating.

"At an energetic breakfast with some of our donors and alumni I made a statement that was solely meant to excite the crowd," Kiffin said in his statement (everybody had a statement Thursday). "If I offended anyone at the University of Florida, including Mr. Foley and Urban Meyer, I sincerely apologize. That was not my intention."

If you offended anyone at Florida? Your remarks were so dumb I think even Florida State coach Bobby Bowden was offended.

Kiffin has been employed for a grand total of two months and change. Since then, he has guaranteed a victory at Florida next season; ticked off South Carolina's Steve Spurrier; detonated the fuse of the SEC's human C-4 explosive, Alabama's Nick Saban; suggested that heralded recruit Marlon Brown -- who chose Georgia over UT -- was a grandmama's boy; intimated that Richardson's high school in Pahokee, Fla., couldn't be trusted to fax the national letter of intent to Tennessee; charged Meyer with breaking rules; and gotten himself reprimanded by the league commish.

And it's only February.

It's OK to excite the crowd. Happens all the time. Jim Tressel did it not long after he became Ohio State's coach. Remember his little speech at halftime of a Buckeyes' hoops game: "I can assure you that you'll be proud of our young people, in the classroom, in the community and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor."

Compared with Tressel, Kiffin has a flamethrower strapped to his back and is aiming the nozzle at the entire conference. The scorched-earth policy gets you cheap applause at a winter breakfast in Knoxville, but what happens when Tennessee travels to Florida in September, or to Alabama in October? You think Bama followers despised former UT coach Phillip Fulmer? Wait until Oct. 24 at Tuscaloosa.

If I made Kiffin money ($2 million per year), I'd consider hiring security for the annual SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla., in May. Saban might try to leap across a table and stab him with a rib bone from Dreamland. Meyer might try to drop one of those two BCS crystal trophies on him.

Some Tennessee fans might mistake Kiffin's knucklehead comments for strength, for assertiveness, for drawing a Rocky Top in the sand. But the truth is, Kiffin has done the near impossible: He has made Al Davis look as if he knows something Tennessee didn't.

Kiffin played to the crowd Thursday morning. He manipulated, and he did so dishonestly. Most of all, he casually and carelessly tried to damage the reputation of Florida's Meyer. Even the most loyal Tennessee fan understands the difference between a rivalry and a rip job.

The Vols' season officially opens Sept. 5 against Western Kentucky. But let's face it: Kiffin is already 0-1.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

ALSO SEE