CLEVELAND - No mention of Urban Meyer. No shots at SEC rivals. No verbal jabs.
Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin won't make SportsCenter with his first stop on the Big Orange Caravan at the Cleveland Country Club. Then again, Kiffin, who hosted a camera crew last week for an upcoming feature on ESPN, said he isn't as focused on making national headlines after five months on the job as he was in December.
"I think our fans right now have started to feel us," Kiffin told reporters before Monday's luncheon. "I don't think I have to say as many things as I did initially, because they didn't know us (then). I think it was important for them to feel us and to feel our energy and to feel our confidence. So many of them got the chance to go to the spring game and the Vol Walk and practices and fan day, I think now you don't have to do as much of that because now they're starting to understand who we are."
Kiffin was making the first of several appearances this spring before alumni groups around the state and the southeast with women's basketball coach Pat Summitt and men's basketball graduate assistant Aaron Green, a former head coach at Cleveland High School. Green stood in for head coach Bruce Pearl.
Kiffin entertained a few hundred fans with stories from his first few months on the job and thanked fans for making Saturday's Orange and White game a special day for the coaching staff and players.
"I've been in three Rose Bowls, two Orange Bowls. Halfway through that Vol Walk, I kind of blanked out a little bit and didn't know where I was," Kiffin said. "I was really feeling like I was at a national championship or something because of all the energy. I got in the locker room and had to remind myself that this is only the spring game."
In fact, the only mention of other SEC schools came when Kiffin described his coaches' reaction to walking through a sea of fans before Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage.
"They've been at South Carolina, Auburn, Alabama and Ole Miss and they said they'd never been a part of anything like that," Kiffin said. "I don't think it was just the sheer numbers, because I think they've been a part of the numbers. But the energy that was there, the emotion that the fans were pouring out was really special."
Kiffin helped raise $25,000 for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland (a figure that doubled its previous high when Pearl spoke there last year), he's spent the better part of five months trying to raise his players' confidence.
"Players aren't going to be any good unless they have confidence," Kiffin told the crowd. "And that goes back to a lot of things that I've said that maybe some of you guys didn't like very much. But understand when you go back to your players and you put yourself out there like that, your players feel confidence in you. They know that their staff has their back, and they know they have to work to get our back."
Making those players better, as well as energizing fans and recruiting elite players nationwide, are the essence of his job description, Kiffin said. Those verbal jabs at Florida, South Carolina or Alabama along the way were just means to that end.
"Unfortunately, sometimes you have to do some things that may not be what everybody likes, but it gets you out there," Kiffin said. "It gets Tennessee in Sports Illustrated and on SportsCenter. That may sound weird to you guys, but understand that's what kids nowadays look at. Ninth-graders, 10th-graders, they need to see Tennessee over and over and over again because that's how they start to say, 'OK, I'm 3,000 miles away, (but) I better go check that place out because something special's going on there.'"
Summitt, who began her career at Tennessee in 1974, feels some of the excitement across all UT sports.
"I think this is a special time for us," she said. "Just with the energy that the football coaching staff has brought in and we all know that Coach Pearl is off the charts when you talk about his passion and his energy and enthusiasm.
"It's great. We are a family. We always have been. When Coach (Phillip) Fulmer was there, he had his door open all the time. He helped me in recruiting. Bruce has done the same, and I've tried to do the same for him. I'm sure we'll all join in with football and whatever they want us to do, we're going to do. It's a special time for us."
And it's not all about talking the talk, either.
Almost to a player, the Vols said they're heading into offseason workouts with more confidence. More than 51,000 fans - the second-largest crowd in school history - attended the spring game. And UT's recruiting class, helped by the signing of the nation's top overall prospect in tailback Bryce Brown, finished 10th in the nation according to Rivals.com.
Fans chuckled when Bob Kesling, UT's radio play-by-play voice and director of external communications, asked Kiffin if he expected to make SportsCenter so quickly after arriving in Knoxville. UT's head coach didn't miss a beat.
"Well, we did get the No. 1 player in the country," Kiffin said, drawing a cheer. "That's my excuse."