There’s always been an element of politics to football in the SEC.
On Monday night, Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin didn’t kiss any babies during a live appearance for “Vol Calls” and a Q&A session with fans in the parking lot at Texas Roadhouse in Turkey Creek.
But he came close.
After his 30-minute appearance on UT’s weekly call-in radio show, Kiffin greeted a steady stream of fans, signed autographs, shook hands and mugged for cameras as linebackers coach Lance Thompson took his turn on the radio.
Included in all that meeting and greeting was a picture with 4-month old Jill Rozelyn Wilson.
“I couldn’t stay at home when I heard about it,” said William Wilson, who brought Jill and wife Jennifer to the chalk talk session and stayed for dinner. “I had to come out and meet him. He’s just like they say, very approachable. He just brings a lot of energy. From when we took our little baby up there, he just grabbed her.
“She was crying and upset until Lane Kiffin held her,” Wilson said. “She kind of calmed down.”
Despite ruffling the feathers of some of his SEC counterparts, Kiffin seems to be pressing all the right buttons with fans in Tennessee.
Wes Hartup, who stopped in after work in Knoxville on his way home to Kingston, said he appreciated the opportunity to hear Kiffin speak to fans in person. He’s also excited for football season.
“One to 10, I’m a 10,” Hartup said. “I’m excited with the recruiting class. The coaching staff is unbelievable. I absolutely cannot wait to get over there. I got my tickets for the UCLA game lined up. I cannot wait to be over there.”
Among the highlights of Kiffin’s Q&A:
- Kiffin said Bryce Brown, the nation’s No. 1 recruit according to Rivals.com, is the best high school tailback he and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron have seen since Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, who the two helped recruit to Southern California.
“This guy is so exciting,” Kiffin said. “I’m not saying he’s Reggie, but there’s a lot of comparisons.”
- Kiffin also said Brown, who signed with UT earlier this month, has helped the staff create inroads with other national prospects.
“It’s really helped us nationally to get in the boat with some guys, Some guys that would have been harder just to get on campus are saying now we want that to be one of our five visits. It’s huge.”
- The Vols have installed about half of their offense through six practices. Kiffin hopes to have about 80 percent installed by the end of spring with the remaining 20 percent to go in during fall camp.
- Kiffin said true freshman defensive tackle Montori Hughes has had an “unbelievable spring” and called him the “surprise of camp.”
- UT’s defensive staff spent seven hours rewatching tape of Saturday’s practice, Kiffin said, even after he had given his coaches the day off.
“We actually beat him (the defense) one time in practice,” Kiffin joked to reporters after speaking, “and I don’t think the defensive staff got to sleep that night.”
- Kiffin again praised tailback Montario Hardesty and quarterback Jonathan Crompton for their performance this spring.
After being introduced as UT’s head coach Dec. 1, Kiffin went straight to the recruiting trail, where the Vols finished up Rivals.com’s 10th rated recruiting class. Since then, it’s been on to the class of 2010 and spring practice.
Still, Kiffin said he has tried to make time to meet fans.
“It’s extremely important,” he said. “I wish I could do it more when we first got here, but we obviously needed to go recruit and get some more players here. It’s always great to be out and around them.
“The energy that the fans bring here helps us so much in recruiting. I don’t think they realize that. We go to a basketball game and there’s 22,000 people there as they come up, they know the jersey numbers, they know the stats, they know the recruits’ names. That goes a long ways. These kids remember that. They come away with a great feeling and they feel like this is a place they could call home.”
On Monday night, those fans had some advice, too.
“I also gave him a challenge,” William Wilson said. “I said, ‘I’ll state you a fact: If you beat Florida this year, you’re bigger than Davy Crockett.’ ”