Gators have Kiffin in their sights

Updated: March 24, 2009, 2:04 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Defending BCS champion Florida opens spring practice Wednesday, but the Gators clearly are thinking of this fall's showdown with Tennessee.

Peeved by the verbal jabs from new Volunteers coach Lane Kiffin, several Florida players say photos of Kiffin are posted throughout their locker room, a reminder of what will fuel them come Sept. 19 in the Swamp.

Kiffin's response?

"First, I think it's a neat thing that Tennessee's logo is all over Florida's locker room," Kiffin said, smiling, during an interview Tuesday morning with "ESPN First Take."

"We have great respect for Florida and Urban Meyer and what they've done there," he continued. "It's a big-time place and big-time program. I don't think bulletin-board material makes a difference."

Kiffin does not deny, however, his efforts to increase Tennessee's visibility in order to get into the heads of the top high school recruits nationally.

"We need them seeing our logo, we need them hearing about Tennessee," he said.

Kiffin has cut a wide swath through the SEC since being introduced as Tennessee's coach on Dec. 1.

In early February, during a post-signing day recruiting breakfast in Knoxville -- an "energetic" celebration, as Kiffin put it -- he accused Meyer of violating NCAA rules by calling recruit Nu'Keese Richardson while Richardson was on his official visit to Tennessee.

Richardson, as it so happens, had changed his commitment from the Gators at the last minute and ended up signing with the Volunteers.

The only problem is that calling recruits while they're on visits to other schools is not against NCAA rules. Kiffin was reprimanded by the SEC and ordered to apologize.

"I couldn't believe what he said," Florida junior safety Ahmad Black said Monday. "Not trying to be cocky or anything, but we've beaten them four years in a row ... by a lot, too. But taking shots at our coach is like taking shots at us. We're family. It's definitely personal now."

Kiffin denied again, however, making inflammatory comments about South Carolina when he was talking with recruit Alshon Jeffery, a wide receiver who ended up signing with the Gamecocks.

Jeffery and Calhoun County (S.C.) High School coach Walter Wilson told ESPN.com that during his recruiting pitch, Kiffin told Jeffery he would end up pumping gas for the rest of his life like all the other players in the state of South Carolina if he signed with the Gamecocks.

"Who knows where it came from," Kiffin said Tuesday on "ESPN First Take." "But there's no reason for us to negatively recruit."

On the day Kiffin was introduced as the Vols' coach, he said during the news conference that he looked forward to embracing Tennessee's traditions and "singing Rocky Top all night long after we beat Florida next year."

"That's OK, because they've got something coming," Florida center Maurkice Pouncey said Monday. "[Kiffin] went public with all his stuff, but we'll do all our talking on the field. That's when we'll have something to say about it."

Information from ESPN.com's Chris Low was used in this report.