Sitting on stage, unaccompanied by blonde recruiting hostesses (good news) but still clearly devoid of a filter between his brain and mouth (oops), Lane Kiffin listened as somebody asked what he considered the toughest thing about coaching college football today.
“Following all the rules,” he said. And the room, free of NCAA investigators, broke into laughter.
I’ll say this for Kiffin: Most folks who devolve into a human punch line every 17 minutes eventually learn their lesson and know when to hit the mental mute button. Kiffin soaks it all in and wears the target proudly, like a new tan. There’s something to be said for consistency.
“I thought you guys were getting bored out there,” he said later about the rules comment. “We were answering every question politically correct, so I thought I’d give you something.”
Kiffin coaches Tennessee, at least when he’s not setting the campus on fire. The Volunteers are under NCAA investigation for recruiting violations, the most salacious of which is sending bubbly coeds off campus to high school football games to help lure hormone-raging teenage football players. There’s also all of that other stuff he has said or done since taking the job, from the occasional tweak, to accusing Florida coach Urban Meyer of cheating, to seeing three of his prize recruits arrested for armed robbery.
The good news? He’s not a schlep like Phil Fulmer, so nobody can make fat jokes.
Kiffin was in town Thursday for a news conference to help promote the Chick-fil-A Bowl game. I think Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer also was there. But Beamer’s 228 career wins just didn’t compare to Kiffin’s seven really loud and obnoxious ones. So the spotlight followed Kiffin.
He did not torch any particular SEC program (or rule) while in town, although he did remark to Beamer about Georgia’s failed pursuit of Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster, “We’re very glad he’s not going to Georgia.”
But he remarked on the probability that he has made coaching enemies in the conference and that, as fallout, other schools might be turning him into the NCAA.
“I think any time you do something [high profile], there’s going to be good and bad to it,” he said. “The approach we took, the good thing was it gave recognition [of Tennessee] to recruits. But I’m sure some of that stuff has made people more apt to try to find things we’re doing wrong and turn us in.”
But he has no direct knowledge of this.
“When you’re turned in, they don’t tell you what school did it,” he said.
For the record, he again denied any wrongdoing. He also said recent remarks that he viewed the NCAA investigation as a “compliment,” were taken out of context. “The context of the question was about what was going on in recruiting and do you feel like you have a target on your back,” he said. “We’re operating at such a high level, I said I take that as a compliment if people are coming after us and they’re [saying], ‘They’re doing something wrong.’ People come after you when you’re on top.”
Two things. First, the Vols are 7-5. They’re not quite on top. Second, Kiffin’s explanation for his frequent bombastic comments and actions – that it’s all orchestrated to the raise the profile of the Tennessee program – isn’t completely believable. Some of that might be true. But it’s also true that he’s a cocky guy who loves the attention but has been somewhat blindsided by the SEC’s lunatic following.
If Kiffin were a head coach in the Pacific 10, everything he said in Scottsdale, Ariz., wouldn’t detonate in Eugene, Ore. In the SEC, it’s like a wet finger in an electric socket.
But maybe he is learning just a little. When I mentioned to him I was surprised he didn’t bring any hostesses with him, Kiffin smiled and said, “Come on. I already gave you one line.”