You never really know what it is that will win over a recruit. College coaches have been saying that for years.
But falling off a fence in the middle of a football practice? Now that’s breaking new ground.
Quite unintentionally, that’s what happened to Tennessee’s 69-year-old defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin while Atlanta-Westlake High’s Michael Taylor was there on an unofficial visit this past weekend. And it was was one of the reasons the 6-foot-1, 205-pound linebacker decided to commit to the Volunteers.
Taylor shared the story of the bizarre accident when I asked him for his impressions of the wizened elder Kiffin, considered one of the game’s brightest defensive minds.
“When I was there he tried to climb a fence and he fell,” Taylor said, trying to stifle a chuckle.
I had to ask: “First of all, what is a 69-year-old man doing climbing a fence?”
“I have no clue,” Taylor said, laughing fully now. “He was upset about the defense or something and I guess he thought he could get over it. He fell backwards.”
“Was he hurt?” I asked, now laughing, too.
“Ended up with a couple of scars,” Taylor replied. “[Linebackers] Coach [Lance] Thompson said he thought a bear had mauled him.”
As it turns out, Monte Kiffin falling backward off that fence helped clinch it for the Vols.
“I thought it was great,” Taylor said. “He’s a warrior for that, in my opinion. That’s the kind intensity he has and the type of players he wants. He reminds a lot of my grandfather that still lives in California. They’re two similar guys. They have the same mannerisms and everything and they still try to do a lot of stuff like they’re still young. Monte Kiffin is a great guy and so is everybody on that coaching staff and we’re going to have a lot of success in that defense.”
Monte Kiffin is, of course, the father of new Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin. Metaphorically speaking, the younger Kiffin has had a verbal fall or two of his own since arriving in Knoxville. But he always has insisted it was merely to bring attention to the Vols.
Taylor also had heard misgivings about the staff.
“A lot of people have been dogging the new coaching staff, but I’m not going to go off what other people say,” he said. “I got in there and got to know them. I got to meet them all and they’re a great group of guys. I think they’re going to be very successful and I’m going to help them with that success.”
Taylor, it should be noted, has done some rebel-rousing of his own with his comments since returning from Knoxville. The Atlantan by way of California, a self-confessed city slicker, seemed to strike a nerve within the recruiting blogosphere. He said he chose Tennessee because, among other things, “It’s not dead with cow pastures and horses all around it. . . . I’m not trying to go to the middle of nowhere.”
Considering most SEC schools and more than than a few ACC schools are surrounded by cow pastures and horse farms — and the fact that he mentioned it in most of his post-commitment media interviews — I’m assuming young Mr. Taylor knew this would get a rise out of some folks.
So when Taylor talks about the Vols being “a good fit,” I believe him.