Tennessee's two most prominent recruiters steadfastly denied that they used negative recruiting tactics with receiver prospect Alshon Jeffrey.
"I think it's unfair that it was said about Lane (UT coach Lane Kiffin)," UT recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron said Thursday. "He's a hard worker, a great recruiter. That's just not his style."
According to a report by ESPN.com earlier this week, Kiffin was accused of telling Jeffrey that he would "end up pumping gas like all the other players from (South Carolina) who had gone to South Carolina" after the receiver chose to sign with the Gamecocks instead of UT.
ESPN.com said the accusation came from Jeffrey and his high school coach, Walter Wilson of Calhoun County High School in St. Matthew, S.C.
The phone call in question took place in the early morning hours of National Signing Day on Feb. 4.
"I was in the room," Orgeron said. "I never heard anything as such. I've worked with Lane for years. Never heard him say anything like that. It came as a complete surprise."
Kiffin spoke with the News Sentinel about the matter following UT's practice on Thursday and said he had called Jeffrey.
"I called him immediately as soon as someone gave me a sheet of paper (with the story) on Tuesday and said 'Alshon, do you know anything about this?' " Kiffin said. "He said 'No, not at all.' "
Kiffin said he also asked Jeffrey if anyone on UT's staff made a reference to pumping gas.
"He said 'No coach, not at all,' " Kiffin said. "He said 'I don't know where that came from.' "
Kiffin said he then asked Jeffrey about his basketball season and wished him luck in school.
Wilson offered support for his story this week when the coach was interviewed by The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. Wilson said Jeffrey's teammate, Eric Mack, was also in the room when Wilson placed Kiffin on speakerphone.
"It's not the first time a (college) coach made a statement like this," Wilson told The State. "(Recruiting) is war on all accounts, survival of the fittest. . . . We need to move on."
Kiffin and Orgeron declined to speculate as to the origin of the accusation.
Tight end Orson Charles from Plant High in Tampa, Fla., offered a far different account of Kiffin as a vanquished recruiter when Charles selected Georgia over UT last week.
"He's a real nice guy," Charles told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "He took it well. He thanked me for considering Tennessee and wished me the best."
Kiffin said he reminds his staff frequently to never engage in negative recruiting.
"If I ever catch them even saying something close to it, I stop them and move them on just because I don't think when you're at Tennessee with this offense, this defense, this staff and these facilities, there's no need to use negative recruiting," Kiffin said.
Kiffin has been in the middle of a handful of media maelstroms since being named UT's coach in December. He seemed to question the timing of the ESPN.com story on Jeffrey but declined to describe himself as a media target.
"I don't know that," he said of being targeted by the media. "Once again, I'd have to speculate to figure that out. It (the ESPN.com story on Jeffrey) just happened to happen right on the first day of our spring ball - is when the story came out."
The story was reported Monday, but picked up steam Tuesday when UT began spring practice.
Mack, one of the top rated offensive tackles in the Southeast for the 2010 signing class, is considering South Carolina and UT among several other schools.
UT and South Carolina have been at odds since Kiffin hired away quarterbacks coach David Reaves to join his staff in Knoxville.
Gamecocks coaches accused Reaves of negative recruiting shortly thereafter. Reaves publicly denied engaging in any negative recruiting.