Apparently things have finally been patched up between the Tennessee football program and Pahokee High School in South Florida. Due to a series of circumstances that can only be described as juvenile, for a while Tennessee assistant coach Eddie Gran was banned from coming back onto the campus to recruit in May.
The issue was Tennessee’s signing of Pahokee wide receiver Nu’Keese Richardson, who had previously given a verbal commitment to Florida. In a fan function on Feb. 4, Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin first got in a dig at Florida coach Urban Meyer, suggesting that Meyer violated NCAA rules in the recruiting of Richardson. That turned out not to be the case and Kiffin had to apologize. He was reprimanded by the SEC.
Later Kiffin was quoted in media reports as saying this to that same group of fans: “For those who haven’t been to Pahokee, there ain’t much going on. You take that hour drive up from South Florida, there ain’t a gas station that works. Nobody’s got enough money to even have shoes or a shirt on.”
Kiffin obviously didn’t know there was a reporter in the room. That was the first mistake. But then the principal of Pahokee High School, Ariel Alejo, compounded the problem when he got mad and banned Tennessee coaches from his campus until he got a public apology. That apology was delivered by phone on Tuesday.
Here’s how to solve this problem and to keep it from happening again: Everybody involved has to act like adults.
Yes, Kiffin made the first mistake. He has to know that in an age where cell phones are also recording devices, everything ends up on the internet sooner or later. Now yesterday I said that what is said by coaches in booster gatherings should be taken with a grain of salt. But I think we’ll agree—and I think Kiffin would agree—that a line was crossed with these comments.
If you are the head coach at an SEC institution as a rule you should not make disparaging remarks about any school or community. Just don’t do it. Not even in a booster gathering. You’ll have to make fewer apologies that way.
But to me, not enough is being made about Mr. Alejo’s response to all this. Mr. Alejo, you are a school administrator in charge of a diverse student body. Act like it. You don’t have a Florida Gator logo (or any logo that is not your high school) underneath your bio on the school’s Web page (which has since been removed). You are not a fan. And if you have a problem with a college and its recruiters coming to your campus, you don’t turn it into a public snit. If you can’t handle it, call your superintendent. There are ways that professionals handle problems and this was not handled professionally until others–including the mayor and vice-mayor–stepped in.
I love college football as much as anybody. I’ve devoted my professional life to it. But it drives me crazy when the game makes normally sane people lose their minds. The kids are watching the adults and looking for guidance and leadership. Too many times we let them down.