UT’s Kiffin just latest to use helicopters in recruiting

Tennessee coaches arrive at M.L. King-Stephenson game in a rented helicopter this past Friday. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Tennessee coaches arrive at M.L. King-Stephenson game in a rented helicopter this past Friday. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin is neither the only coach nor the first coach to employ a helicopter in recruiting. In fact, lots of the schools are doing it these days, according to a recent article in The New York Times.

Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans reported on Oct. 16 that swooping into high school games on a chopper is just the latest emerging trend in major college football recruiting. Cincinnati, Missouri, UCLA and Maryland are among those that have apparently been doing it for awhile. In fact, the Terrapins apparently were one of the first to employ the strategy but no longer do it due to budget constraints, the newspaper reported.

But such grandiose tactics hadn’t been seen in these parts until Kiffin and assistant coach Ed Orgeron arrived at the nationally-televised M.L. King-Stephenson game this past Friday at Hallford Stadium in Clarkston in a small, rented helicopter. It was a carefully orchestrated ploy in which the pilot made sure that he landed at the adjoining soccer field precisely as the “Star Spangled Banner” was playing over the stadium loudspeakers and the 7,000-person crowd was standing at attention. Every player on both teams — there were as many as 20 Football Bowl Division prospects participating — turned and watched as the red chopper hovered longer than needed about 30 feet above the ground.

All eyes now on them, Kiffin and Oregeron entered the stadium from a back gate and hobnobbed with coaches and administrators on the sidelines as the teams went through their final pregame paces, then watched the first half of the game. At halftime, they piled back into the tiny whirlybird, took off and headed north to Suwanee where they arrived during the first few minutes of the North Gwinnett-Northview game.

The players seemed to appreciate the show.

“That really felt good to me,” said Mike Thornton, a star defensive tackle at Stephenson and one of the Vols’ primary targets. “[Kiffin] told me he was going to come in and show off a little bit and, sure ‘nough, he did his thing.”

It’s a two-fold strategy. One, it obviously has the potential to make a big impression on impressionable young recruits. Two, it’s a fast and nimble mode of transportation that can help coaches can avoid traffic and make multiple stops in one night.

UCLA actually has its own helicopter, “Air Bruin,” which was donated by Larry Welk, the grandson of the late entertainer Lawrence Welk. Coach Rick Neuheisel told The Times it is invaluable for navigating over the infamously awful L.A. traffic and allows them to attend mutiple games in one night.

Helicopters can also be rented (costs range from $1,000 an hour up). Judging from the size of the helicopter Kiffin and Orgeron were squeezing into, the Vols went the low-budget route.

Georgia Tech is of course located in downtown Atlanta and is surrounded by some of the worst traffic in the nation. But recruiting coordinator Giff Smith said he doesn’t see the Yellow Jackets resorting to such tactics.

“We’ve never used it with Coach [Paul] Johnson and I don’t see us ever doing that, to be honest,” he said. “The head coach only gets one ‘drop-in’ and we think it’s important for him to sit down in the home with the parents and explain how he’s going to mentor their kid and help him achieve his goals academically and in football. I don’t know you can do that flying into a football game.”

32 comments Add your comment

Saint Simons

October 20th, 2009
5:26 am

((((( thank god for vandy )))))) hahahahahahaha

Lane Kiffin

October 20th, 2009
5:32 am

Nickell Robey reopening his recruitment and visiting UT!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks Willie!!!!!!!!!!!


October 20th, 2009
5:59 am

I’m fer em.

Dr. Warren

October 20th, 2009
6:21 am

In other words, Tech also has budget constraints.


October 20th, 2009
7:04 am

Let Lane use the short term “flash” tactics to get kids. Young men that choose to go to Georgia Tech are not going to factor in “style points” antics in making such a serious decision. Picking the right school for your education is about staying power and long-term decision making…it is a 40-year decision, not a 4-year decision. Antics such as what Kiffin employs teaches young men that fleeting emotions are important…yet they are only distractions that take your focus off important long-term goals. Lane Kiffin will have zero impact on young men that would end up choosing Georgia Tech anyway…he can do whatever he wants and it does not matter to me…although I do hate to see young men being taught such things by adults that are supposedly there to look out for their best interests and develop them into responsible men.

Mark Richt

October 20th, 2009
7:50 am

Classy response made by Gill Smith. Is he a UGA grad ? Just kidding…. (No I’m not)


October 20th, 2009
8:06 am

Mark, his name is Giff Smith. Shouldn’t you be practicing your back flip off the high dive?


October 20th, 2009
8:32 am

Must be a slow day in the recruiting blog world!! Chip what is it with boy blunder getting all the attention from you and the AJC. RTR

Les W. Moore

October 20th, 2009
8:44 am

Yep. Slow. But the mutt fans can still find the time to bellyache. Poor mutt fans.


October 20th, 2009
8:45 am


Are you going to do your job and talk about recruiting? Or are you going to keep talking about Lane Kiffin? What about the ton of uncommitted Georgia prospects out there, including kids who may be going to mid-major schools? Is Troy State or UAB up on that MLK High QB that you think so highly of, for instance? Or is Georgia Tech going after him as a recruited walk-on?

And has Georgia Tech’s victory over Virginia Tech and UGA’s slide had any effect on recruiting? Is Georgia Tech going to encourage any guys who will be seniors next year that are not starting to take out student loans and get on financial aid (to give up their scholarships … look if they are in-state students paying for one year themselves with loans and grants shouldn’t be that big of a burden) so Tech can free up a scholarship or two so they can capitalize off their success and get a couple 4 star recruits?

Will the prospect that UGA will finally be forced to fire Martinez cause some UGA defensive recruits to waffle? Or will UGA probably hiring somebody far better, like the defensive coordinators at Ole Miss or South Carolina (if UGA had either they’d be 6-1 instead of 4-3) cause defensive players who actually want to develop and be utilized properly head to Athens? And with all the attention paid to Atlanta area recruits by Georgia and Georgia Tech, who is getting players from south Georgia, areas like Albany, Valdosta and Thomasville (where most Georgia and Georgia Tech stars from the 70s and 80s and even early 90s like Buck Belue, Shawn Jones, Joe Burns, Herschel Walker etc. came from)? And shouldn’t UGA be in the market for a new RB coach in addition to a new defensive coordinator? All these 4 and 5 star recruits failing to pan out at UGA … it can’t be the coaching. It has to be the players. Note that Georgia Tech has absolutely no problem running the football with their much lower profile recruits.

There are so many recruiting stories out there in the Peach State, yet all you talk about is Lane Kiffin, who will either win a national title at Tennessee or be fired within 4 years. While that is probably fascinating to Tennessee, Alabama and Florida fans, either way, it doesn’t affect Georgia much – as Richt has watched them come and go without ever being in jeopardy or coming anywhere close to winning a title himself – and it certainly doesn’t affect Georgia Tech at all.

Just Say No

October 20th, 2009
9:04 am

Enter your comments here

UTs Comedian

October 20th, 2009
9:08 am

Lane kiffen is a Al Davis throwaway that should tell you something.


October 20th, 2009
9:26 am

49-19 45-19 45-19 45-19 45-19 45-19…hahahahahahhahahahahahaha


October 20th, 2009
9:36 am

Gerald wrote – Is Georgia Tech going to encourage any guys who will be seniors next year that are not starting to take out student loans and get on financial aid (to give up their scholarships … look if they are in-state students paying for one year themselves with loans and grants shouldn’t be that big of a burden) so Tech can free up a scholarship or two so they can capitalize off their success and get a couple 4 star recruits?
Georgia Tech University is still thinking of ways to lie and cheat. Way to look after kids who committed to you in good faith.


October 20th, 2009
9:45 am

Bozo is playing you for fools. He has shown he will do or say anything for attention and the AJC falls over themselves to report it.

So he gets a few commits to switch, big freakin deal.

Chip Towers

October 20th, 2009
10:12 am

Gerald: I AM writing about recruiting. This blog is about the use of helicopters in recruiting, NOT Lane Kiffin. We’ll get around to everything you’ve suggested here and more. This topic just happens to be on the front burner in the wake of Tennessee’s moves this past weekend. Thanks for the suggestions, though.

joe joe

October 20th, 2009
10:17 am

That is so immature showing up like that & taking all of the attention off of these young kids, especially during the national anthem. All about me. Lookie at me, lookie at me. I’ve never seen a group that has to keep trying to show that “theirs” is longer. What an inferiority complex.


October 20th, 2009
10:21 am

IF he really wanted to make a statement he’d have come in in a team logoed Hot Air Baloon.

what’s next hovercraft? How about a Ferrari?

Hey kid come to school here and you’ll get….. Exactly the same thing you would get at another school.


October 20th, 2009
10:24 am

Thanks for another article on Lane Kiffin, we appreciate it.


October 20th, 2009
10:25 am


“Way to look after kids who committed to you in good faith.”

There is a difference between pulling a scholarship to an underclassman out of state student or running a rising senior starter out of school – like Saban did to Chris Jackson and Brandon Fanney last year – and asking a senior who is not going to start (meaning he has no NFL future) to take on the same financial burden for one season that everyone else has for 4. If you are a senior who has never cracked the starting lineup, you haven’t contributed much – or at all – to Georgia Tech’s football success. But you HAVE benefited greatly from the Georgia Tech football program: admission to a university that you likely would have had no chances of attending otherwise, a free education, tons of tutoring and academic support that isn’t available to other students, etc. And if you took advantage of all that, then you get a degree where you will earn $70,000 a year starting out, especially if one of the MANY Georgia Tech alums out there gives you a job or helps you find one?

So for all that Georgia Tech has done for a kid who has not given them so much as a sack or a touchdown on the football field in return, is it too much to ask to have that kid give up his scholarship and be a walk-on his final year in return? Or even to use that final year to concentrate on his studies and job or graduate school prospects instead of using that last year going through the grind of being a football player (practice, weightlifting etc.) when he is never going to see the field?

I’d call the kid who wouldn’t do that for the program that has done so much for him selfish. A guy who wants a free spot and a free ride when he obviously never did anything to advance the program on the football field, and is keeping another kid from getting the opportunity for a free education and to possibly help the program by refusing to stand aside. Again, there is a difference between running off a freshman or a guy who is starting like overbook Saban did, and getting a kid who isn’t helping the team on the field to pay his own way for one season after the program has paid the other three.

And by the way, the idea of a “four year commitment” is nothing but NCAA propaganda. The truth is that scholarships are for 1 season only, and the school has the option to renew. If a coach doesn’t like or want a kid, he can not renew his scholarship at any time. That is what happens in most of these cases when kids “decide to transfer”, especially when the “decision” is to transfer to a much lower division school. It is in both parties’ best interests to pretend that it is a mutual transfer decision, because the coach isn’t known as a guy who pulls scholarships, and the player has more transfer options if he is regarded as being a guy who could have come back the next year but chose not to instead of a guy who is being run off. When a guy transfers that the coach actually wants to keep, you can tell because he gets mad and either rips the player, trashes the school that he is goin g to, or limits his transfer options.

Top Dawg

October 20th, 2009
11:18 am

As many columns that are being written about Lane Kiffin, I am beginning to think somebody has a man-crush on the UT coach.


October 20th, 2009
11:37 am

Good job, Chip. Cha-ching!

Tremendous follow-up story on the use of helicopters. Just shows that there are many ways to recruit. I predict a hit count of 7500 for this one. Folks are weary of hearing how innovative that UT staff is compared to theirs. The over/under on posters predicting probation is 100.


October 20th, 2009
12:07 pm

Man, you couldn’t have gotten me up in THAT puny helicopter! I’ve seen helicopters on those little kiddie rides at the fair bigger that that! How did they fit Kiffin, Ed O(range pumkin) AND a pilot in that thing??? Maybe it was remote control??? If I would have been a big time prospect watching that little thing land, I would have laughed my arse off! What next, Auburn Coaches showing up in Kia Limos????

Gator Growl

October 20th, 2009
12:15 pm

That little crimson tide red minicopter just screamed “low budget!” to me. Lucky(?) there was no turbulence!


October 20th, 2009
1:32 pm

Interesting to read this article because over in Tenn they are all raving about how innovative and genius this was for Kiffin/Orgeron to use a chopper, like they were the first ones to ever do it. Man ,those Vols have their heads so far in the clouds that even Kiffins “Kittycopter” couldn’t get there!!!


October 20th, 2009
2:28 pm

Just curious. If Kiffin is appearances only, how did his team beat the Bulldogs so badly? I don’t see how a school with such an illustrious recruiting history can be beaten so soundly by smoke and mirrors. GA was badly outcoached and everyone knows it.


October 20th, 2009
2:51 pm

I live in the DC area, and last year an Alabama fan coworker and I went to Woodbridge, VA to see a runningback that bama was recruiting. He was also being recruited by Rutgers and it just so happened that Greg Schiano was there. He had similarly flown in on a helicopter.

So no, it is not new. And when I saw it last year I thought it was a common practice. Maybe I was thinking of Mike Raita with the Fox 6 Sideline program in Birmingham from when I was growing up. Still a good idea by Kiffen though.


October 20th, 2009
2:54 pm

Georgia Tech University? Way to go Frank.


October 20th, 2009
4:36 pm

Where is a terrorist when you need one? RPG,RPG,RPG!!

Johnny DangerDawg

October 20th, 2009
6:52 pm

Real men arrive at football games via jetpack.


October 20th, 2009
7:29 pm

If my memory serves me right, I think Pepper Rodgers was doing the copter thing back in the 70’s.


October 21st, 2009
9:55 am

Giff Smith played at Georgia Southern moron, not UGA.