Vols' AD backs Kiffin's actions, words
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Lane Kiffin has done just what his new boss at Tennessee wanted him to do: Put the Volunteers back in the national spotlight.
And while the new coach has ruffled some feathers with his bold moves and brash comments, athletic director Mike Hamilton told The Associated Press Thursday that Kiffin's statements have been "misunderstood."
"Everybody says, 'Does he really understand what he's doing or saying?' Yeah, he does," said Hamilton. "He might have been shocked initially or surprised initially at the attention that anything he says will get."
Kiffin was forced to apologize to Florida and drew a reprimand from the Southeastern Conference in February after joking that Gators coach Urban Meyer broke rules in recruiting Nu'Keese Richardson, an eventual Vols signee.
"I have found him to be different from the media persona that was painted of him, stemming from those original February comments," Hamilton said. "He's not as cavalier as the media painted him to be."
Instead, Hamilton sees a football coach that is bright, focused on team goals and doing a good job.
And most importantly, Hamilton says, "He has gotten Tennessee back on the map."
"When you think about the fact that our football program was 5-7 last year, and we've got a coach that's not coached a game yet in college football, but yet, we're on the front page of USA Today sports [Tuesday] ... it's really quite amazing," he said.
"Now we prefer that attention to always be positive, but sometimes you take the good with the bad in that regard. I feel like for the most part it's been good."
The attention has paid off with recruiting. Kiffin has landed a top 10 recruiting class for his first season, including running back Bryce Brown, the nation's top-rated prospect.
Hamilton said he's also pleased with how the 34-year-old coach put together his staff of assistants -- which features father Monte Kiffin as has defensive coordinator -- and has handled discipline and encouraged classroom attendance.
Kiffin was back in the spotlight on Wednesday when Tennessee confirmed it would self-report a secondary violation of NCAA recruiting rules after a comment about a recruit was posted to coach Lane Kiffin's Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Hamilton said it was an inadvertent mistake made by a newly hired staff assistant who posted the note which read: "I was so excited to hear that J.C. Copeland committed to play for the Vols today!"
It's the fourth minor violation by the Vols since Kiffin was introduced as head coach in December.
Hamilton said the school hasn't reported an unusual amount of secondary violations this season -- it's just that the ones being reported are receiving a lot more attention because of Kiffin's high profile.
Kiffin has also spent some time recently trying to smooth over relationships with officials at Pahokee High School in Pahokee, Fla., a place where he and coaches have been recruiting.
In February, he suggested school officials might try to interfere with Richardson's efforts to sign with Tennessee. Kiffin apologized to various school and community leaders, and just this week running backs coach Eddie Gran was allowed to attend a Pahokee practice.
The back-and-forth spurred criticism for both Kiffin and Pahokee officials on blog posts and Internet message boards.
Still, Hamilton isn't too worried about the fallout.
"Have you heard some of the things our basketball coach has said," he joked, referring to the animated Bruce Pearl. "Some of the things Bruce says sometimes are much more cavalier, but because the attention Lane garnered early on for some reason the media seems to be more focused on that. And that's OK."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press