MEMPHIS - Like a determined running back plowing into the end zone as linebackers fall by the wayside, Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin continues to deflect rumors, accusations and an NCAA investigation regarding possible recruiting violations.
Following a report by The New York Times last week into an alleged misuse of a hostess program, Tennessee officials announced an NCAA investigation was taking place. The focus of that investigation centers on the Orange Pride, a group of mostly female students that entertains recruits during campus visits, among other things. Some of the hostesses have been accused of visiting recruits at high school games out of state, which would be an NCAA violation for representatives of the school.
On Friday, another New York Times story said the school may have committed a secondary violation when intern Steve Rubio accompanied Kiffin on a recruiting trip to St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where Rubio played and at one time was a volunteer assistant coach. NCAA rules state that only Tennessee's nine assistant coaches and Kiffin are allowed to visit prospects off campus.
It is unclear whether Rubio actually met with the recruits at the school.
Kiffin, who spoke to the Touchdown Club at Chickasaw Country Club on Monday night, is confident his staff is abiding by the rules.
''We're very excited about what's going on in recruiting with us as far as the great players we signed last year and what's going on this year,'' Kiffin said. ''We take the rules and bylaws of the NCAA very serious. We spend a lot of time making sure that we're following them. Sometimes everything doesn't go perfect. Sometimes some people make some bad decisions. We'll continue to investigate everything and continue to work extremely hard.''
As the Vols continue preparing for their Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A Bowl game against Virginia Tech, Kiffin said the accusations have not been a distraction for his team. He also isn't concerned about how it will affect his upcoming recruiting class.
''Our players don't think about this one bit,'' Kiffin said. ''This has nothing to do with our current team. It has to do with something that's going on completely outside of them. It's not a distraction at all.
"We've seen a great response from (recruits). We just have to make sure they have the proper information with these situations.
''We spend a lot of time making sure we do things the right way. We take it very serious. This is two examples of things that happened awhile ago that have popped up.''
Kiffin is more concerned about getting his team ready for the Hokies. He has used the extra practice time to give attention to younger players.
On Friday, the Vols will begin preparing for Virginia Tech. The fact that Tennessee rallied to win four of its last five games to qualify for a bowl has Kiffin believing his program is building momentum.
''I thought all along that we had a good team, we had some players that could win some games for us,'' he said. ''We started a little bit slower than we liked. We finished strong, winning four of our last five. Before that, we had a chance against the No. 1 team in the country (Alabama) on the road to get a win.
"I think a lot of strides were made, starting with the Georgia win. To be able to beat a good team in Georgia the way that we did at our place was kind of the beginning of a good start.''
The added exposure of a bowl game in his first season is invaluable, Kiffin said.
It's the other kind of exposure he could do without.
Marlon W. Morgan can be reached at 901-529-2792.