No offense, but Kiffin not treading lightly

February, 11, 2009
2/11/09
7:17
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

While the debate in the SEC rages as to whether Lane Kiffin is a breath of fresh air or full of hot air, he's already managed one noteworthy accomplishment in the annals of Tennessee football.

He and former Tennessee coach John Majors met on Wednesday, talked briefly and were supposed to meet again in Kiffin's office at the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center.

It's anybody's guess as to the last time Majors set foot in the Vols' football complex. He and former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer maintain a bitter feud that stretches back to Majors being forced out following the 1992 season. Majors claims Fulmer stabbed him in the back, a claim that Fulmer steadfastly denies.

But on Wednesday at the Big Orange Tipoff Club in Knoxville, there sat Majors listening to Kiffin's speech, and there was Kiffin beforehand going out of his way to get somebody to introduce him to Majors.

Not a bad move by Kiffin, who was in his junior year of high school when Majors coached his final game at Tennessee.

Despite anything that's happened or been said over the years, Majors is, was and always will be a Tennessee legend.

Kiffin is quickly moving in the direction, and he's yet to even coach in an SEC game.

The fans in Tennessee love him. They love his brashness. They love his energy. They love the fact that he seems to revel in keeping things stirred up.

Winning and losing ... that will come later.

During his speech Wednesday at the tipoff club luncheon (Yes, they allow football speakers), he wasn't the least bit interested in backing down from some of his comments last week.

In fact, he almost seemed to make light of the fact that an apology was even necessary after being publicly reprimanded by SEC commissioner Mike Slive.

"We'll make sure we don't offend anyone in the conference or at another school," said Kiffin, drawing a roar of laughter from the pro-Tennessee crowd. "We'll be nice."

Kiffin never mentioned Florida coach Urban Meyer by name, but Kiffin managed to get a whiny reference in that was clearly directed at Meyer. Kiffin wrongly accused Meyer of committing an NCAA violation last week, prompting Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley to demand an apology and the subsequent reprimand from the SEC.

"I like to have fun with some things," Kiffin said. "The best example I can use is that Steve Spurrier came out the first day I was here and accused me of recruiting without having passed the test. Well, I didn't call the commissioner and whine about it. I threw a shot back at him, joking around. But we'll make sure we're aware of how sensitive people are around here.

"But here's the point of it. This is about our players. That's what it's about. We're not going to win any games without them, and we're not going to be able to recruit without an energized fan base. The sense I've gotten is that we have an energized fan base right now and an energized state that's excited. If it took that stuff to get that done, hey, it's working."

The 33-year-old Kiffin seemed at ease and cracked several light-hearted jokes.

If he's fretting over the firestorm he created last week and any repercussions it might have around the league or with recruits, he's certainly not showing it. And he made it abundantly clear that he didn't come to the SEC to tread lightly.

The Vols' players, according to Kiffin, have been re-energized by some of the things he said last week.

"There's nobody outside the Tennessee fans. There's nobody outside the Tennessee family, and there's nobody outside this group of players that will ever help us win a football game," Kiffin said. "So we really don't care if we offend some people on the way to getting there.

"The bottom line is that our players are extremely motivated, because what's happened is that, yeah, we've said some things that may have ruffled some feathers. We've maybe gone in and not been exactly as polite as we can be when we go into a school and wait our turn. But you want to know what? [The players] know we're doing that, and I'm saying things publicly because they have to perform. When they feel their head coach and their staff have so much belief and so much trust in them, they're down there working harder than ever.

"I like the way it's going."

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