If Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin were trying to generate interest in his first recruiting class, he succeeded spectacularly Thursday morning. The interest extended way beyond the UT fans who gathered at the Knoxville Convention Center for a “recruiting celebration.”
Kiffin got a harsh response from the University of Florida and an official reprimand from the SEC office. By late Thursday afternoon, Kiffin had issued an apology for the remarks he made about Florida’s recruiting.
The same remarks produced the loudest applause of the morning from the crowd of nearly 1,000 fans.
“I’m going to turn Florida in right now in front of you,” Kiffin told his receptive audience. “Nu’Keese (Richardson) was here on campus (on his recruiting visit) and his phone kept ringing.
“One of our coaches said, ‘Nu’Keese, who’s that?’ He said, ‘Urban Meyer (Florida’s coach).’
“Just so you know, when a recruit is on another campus, you can’t call him. I love the fact that Urban had to cheat and still didn’t get him (Richardson signed with UT after committing to the Gators).”
Florida didn’t take Kiffin’s comments lightly. It released a statement from athletic director Jeremy Foley on Thursday afternoon.
“There was no rule violation and we have confirmed this with the Southeastern Conference,” Foley’s statement read. “It is obvious that Coach Kiffin doesn’t know that there is not a rule precluding phone contact with a prospect during an official visit on another campus during a contact period.
“His allegations are inappropriate, out of line and, most importantly, totally false. It is completely unfair to Urban Meyer, our coaching staff, our football program and our institution. The appropriate action at this time in my opinion is for Coach Kiffin to make a apology.”
The SEC chimed in before Kiffin issued an apology.
“Coach Kiffin has violated the Southeastern Conference code of ethics,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said in reprimanding Kiffin. “(The bylaw) clearly states that coaches and administrators shall refrain from directed public criticism of other member institutions, their staffs or players.
“The phone call to which Coach Kiffin referred to in his public comments is not a violation of SEC or NCAA rules. We expect our coaches to have an understanding and knowledge of conference and NCAA rules.”
Later in the day, Kiffin apologized.
“I’ve been made aware by the Southeastern Conference that my comments this morning at a breakfast with our donors violated a conference policy,” he said. “In my enthusiasm for our recruiting class, I made some statements that were meant solely to excite those at the breakfast.
“I apologize to commissioner Mike Slive and the SEC, including Florida AD Jeremy Foley and coach Urban Meyer. My comments were not intended to offend anyone at the University of Florida.”
Florida wasn’t Kiffin’s only target Thursday. He also took a dig at Alabama, which was No. 1 in the country this past season before losing to Florida in the SEC championship game.
“Nick Saban (Alabama’s coach) should have started his press conference (Wednesday) by saying, ‘Our great class that we signed ... I’d really like to thank Lance (Thompson) because Lance signed eight of those guys.’ ”
Thompson was an assistant coach and star recruiter for Saban before joining Kiffin’s new staff at UT. And he’s about as shy as his head coach.
“He ain’t getting any more of my (recruits),” Thompson said of Saban.
Thompson also compared UT’s recruiting in Memphis to Alabama’s recruiting in Mobile, Ala., before he arrived.
“Everybody said, ‘Auburn beats us in Mobile,’ ” Thompson said. “Y’all beat us anymore, Eddie (referring to former Auburn assistant coach Eddie Gran, who’s now on Kiffin’s staff).
“Y’all say the same thing about Memphis in Tennessee. We’re going to own Memphis.”
Kiffin and his assistants made it clear they don’t take the recruiting services’ evaluations of players as gospel. That set up Thompson for another Alabama shot.
“Just for your information, Utah had no five-stars (recruits), and they kicked the lining out of our tails,” said Thompson in reference to Alabama’s loss to Utah in the Sugar Bowl.
The recruiting celebration didn’t end as the fans filed out of the Convention Center. In fact, it was just getting started.
Kiffin and his staff later addressed UT fans in Nashville and Memphis.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.