Notice something beating around here the last couple of days?
It’s called a pulse. Tennessee football has one again.
New coach Lane Kiffin has provided it.
Granted, there has been collateral damage. Kiffin was chided by the University of Florida and reprimanded by the SEC Office after he gigged the Gators at a UT “recruiting celebration” Thursday morning.
He accused — erroneously, it turns out — Florida coach Urban Meyer of an NCAA recruiting violation as the UT crowd cheered him on.
In the process, he proved he hadn’t committed the NCAA rulebook or the SEC by-laws to memory.
My advice to UT athletic director Mike Hamilton: Don’t fire him just yet.
UT football needed a jolt, and if the aftershock reaches Gainesville, so be it.
The program has been too stagnant and too predictable for too long. And it has never been more predictable than when it ventured into the same stadium with Meyer’s Gators.
In comes Kiffin with a new staff and a new attitude. They’re energetic, brash and quite willing to tweak the powers that be in SEC football.
What’s wrong with that? Nothing, according to the great American who once said, “If you can’t beat them, tweak them.”
UT hasn’t come close to beating Alabama or Florida the last two years. It probably won’t come close next year, either.
What are Kiffin and his guys supposed to do until they close the talent gap? Curl into a fetal position and hope Nick Saban and Meyer sympathetically resist the urge to kick the Vols while they’re down?
Kiffin is sending a message. And if it isn’t received well by Florida or the SEC Office, he shouldn’t despair. His target audience is the UT fan base. His message: This isn’t business as usual.
Appropriate response from UT fans: Hallelujah!
Kiffin has made it as crystal clear as a national championship trophy. His ultimate goal isn’t to win the Outback Bowl or continue UT’s dominance over Kentucky. He’s trying to take UT where national champion Florida is and where Alabama is headed at a sprinter’s pace.
You can’t catch them by hiding from them. Kiffin is rallying the troops and going after them, for better or worse.
If UT fans aren’t encouraged, they need to check their own pulses.
Kiffin and his staff made fun of both Saban and Meyer on Thursday. And yes, he crossed a line when he flippantly accused Meyer of a violation. SEC commissioner Mike Slive has worked too hard and too successfully to clean up the conference’s image to let that pass without a reprimand.
But you have to consider the context. Kiffin didn’t call a press conference to accuse Meyer of cheating. He was playing to the crowd, just as he was playing to the crowd when he ribbed Saban. He was talking to boosters, not NCAA investigators.
Even if Kiffin had been right — and Meyer had broken an NCAA rule by calling a recruit when he was on another school’s campus — the Gators wouldn’t exactly have been on the brink of the death penalty. It would have been a secondary violation. Coaches commit secondary violations in their sleep.
So no one will suddenly mistake Meyer for Hal Mumme or Pat Dye. The only thing Meyer is guilty of is building the best program in college football (imagine all the lesser programs he had to step on along the way).
Based on my emails, some UT fans have another concern. They’re worried that Kiffin’s slights will inspire Florida to beat the Vols even worse in The Swamp this fall.
Question: How much worse could it be?
The Gators beat the Vols by 39 points two years ago at the same venue. All UT did to provoke them was show up.
Florida doesn’t need extra motivation to reduce an opponent to mush. It’s going for a third national championship in four years.
UT’s program is the one that needs inspiration. Credit Kiffin with doing his best to deliver it.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.