Lane Kiffin’s popularity might be plummeting elsewhere. But it’s soaring locally.
And Kiffin made it clear at the Big Orange Tipoff Club on Wednesday, that he doesn’t care much about “elsewhere.”
Kiffin sparked a barrage of criticism last week when he accused Florida coach Urban Meyer of a secondary NCAA violation. He and his assistant coaches also made fun of Alabama coach Nick Saban in addressing UT fans at the program’s recruiting celebration last week.
UT’s new football coach didn’t spice up Wednesday’s speech with any barbs for his rivals. But he didn’t ignore last week’s commotion, either.
Neither did UT men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl or Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, who preceded Kiffin at the dais.
“My goal was to be the least popular coach in the SEC,” Pearl said of his first season as UT’s basketball coach. “It took me one year. It took Lane Kiffin one week.”
Summitt followed: “When I was in Florida (for Sunday’s game), they were still talking about Coach Kiffin. You’re quite popular in Florida right now (referring to Kiffin).”
Their comments set the tone, which Kiffin continued.
“We’ll make sure that we don’t offend anyone in the conference or any other school,” he said for openers. “We’ll be very nice.”
Kiffin mentioned only one other SEC coach, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, in his speech, which was followed by a question-and-answer session.
“I like to have fun with some things,” Kiffin said. “The example I can give you is that Steve Spurrier came out the first day I was here and accused me of recruiting without having passed the test (as required by the NCAA).
“I didn’t call the (SEC) commissioner whining about it. I just shot back at him, joking around with him. We’ll make sure we’re aware of how sensitive people are around here.
“Here’s the point of it: This is about our players. We’re not going to win any games without them. We’re not going to be able to continue to recruit without a great fan base.
“The sense I’ve got is we have an energized fan base right now, and an energized state that’s excited about it. If it took that stuff to get that done, it’s working. And if it took that stuff to get our players motivated at 5:30 in the morning, it’s working. I like the way it’s going.”
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284.