By DARRYL MAXIE / firstname.lastname@example.org
Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin and his staff are “welcome any day, any time” in Pahokee, Fla. His latest apology — frankly, we’ve lost count of how many he delivered — apparently did the trick Tuesday afternoon. Either that, or the fact that cameras were on hand to record it this time.
“Everything is a go,” Pahokee vice mayor Henry Crawford Jr. told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “[Kiffin] apologized once again, and they are welcome any day, any time.”
The exact language of the apology wasn’t revealed. But Crawford’s statement — “We got an apology; that’s all we wanted” — sounded strange, considering that Tuesday was hardly the first time Kiffin had made such an overture. In fact, the vice mayor made it clear that Kiffin had apologized “once again.”
The rift began in February, when the Vols persuaded Nu’Keese Richardson to set aside his commitment to Florida and sign with Tennessee instead. The feud reached inferno stage when Kiffin wrongly accused the Gators of cheating while trying to woo the Pahokee wide receiver. The comments, which Kiffin said he never intended to go beyond Vols fans at a rally, drew outrage from Florida and a reprimand from the SEC. He apologized then, but his gesture was hardly embraced.
In fact, more than three months after the fact, Pahokee still bore the Vols such ill will that principal Ariel Alejo expelled Tennessee assistant coach Eddie Gran from campus and declared the Vols unwelcome.
Not that it was having an adverse effect on current recruiting efforts — since the Vols have offered five Pahokee players — but Kiffin decided the ill will served nobody well. He took it upon himself to contact Alejo and three Pahokee officials by phone and reiterate his apologies.
Alejo, a reputed Gators fan, also took heat for his position, one that Crawford supported.
“He had the best interests of the community at heart, his school and his football players,” Crawford said. “I don’t think he took it personally. He deemed the statements were inappropriate. I applaud him for taking steps to protect the school, our citizens and my community.”
Still, the vice mayor made it clear that he was relieved the feud was finished. Gran met with Crawford, Pahokee mayor Wayne Whitaker and city manager Matthew Brock. A local TV station was present when Kiffin phoned. But that, Crawford said, wasn’t what was most important.
“It’s not about us. It’s for the kids,” he said. “We can overcome our mistakes, but we shouldn’t hold back the kids.”