Florida players: Kiffin's comments make it personal

March, 23, 2009
3/23/09
6:34
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Florida coach Urban Meyer has said very little publicly about some of the comments directed at him by first-year Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin.

But inside the Gators' lair? That's a different story.

Several Florida players say that pictures of Kiffin are pasted throughout their locker room, and they're still fuming over what they say was a blatant show of disrespect for their coach.

"I couldn't believe what he said," Florida junior safety Ahmad Black said. "Not trying to be cocky or anything, but we've beaten them four years in a row ... by a lot, too. But taking shots at our coach is like taking shots at us. We're family. It's definitely personal now."

To recap, as if it needs to be recapped, Kiffin accused Meyer of cheating in the recruitment of receiver Nu'Keese Richardson, who changed his commitment from the Gators at the last minute and signed with the Vols. Kiffin, speaking to a pro-Tennessee crowd at a recruiting celebration the day after signing day, boasted that Meyer was unable to get Richardson despite committing an NCAA violation and calling Richardson while he was on a visit to Tennessee.

The only problem is that calling recruits while they're on visits to other schools is not against NCAA rules. Kiffin was reprimanded by the SEC and ordered to apologize.

Also, the day Kiffin was introduced as the Vols' coach, he said during the news conference that he looked forward to embracing Tennessee's traditions and "singing 'Rocky Top' all night long after we beat Florida next year."

Florida center Maurkice Pouncey's response?

"That's OK, because they've got something coming," Pouncey said. "[Kiffin] went public with all his stuff, but we'll do all our talking on the field. That's when we'll have something to say about it."

Florida cornerback Joe Haden said when word started to spread about Kiffin accusing Meyer of cheating that Meyer and the players all started texting each other.

"I guess [Kiffin] was doing that for his team, but he could have done that behind closed doors," Haden said. "To put our coach out there like that for something he didn't do was crazy. Coach Meyer is one of the best coaches in college football, and he's like a father to a lot of the players on this team.

"When we heard about it, the players were sending Coach Meyer text messages telling him, 'We've got your back.' We've got a family bond here, and when somebody attacks somebody in your family like that, it's on then."

Black said Meyer made it clear that he didn't take anything Kiffin said lightly.

"Coach was texting us, and we were texting him back," Black said. "We're there with him all day long. He's our coach."

Haden said Kiffin won't be the one who pays the ultimate price.

"I guess I know why he said what he said, but he's the one that put his players in a bad situation because we're going to try and dominate them," Haden said.

Of course, the folks on Rocky Top are probably wondering how much worse it could be. The Gators have won the last two games by a combined 63 points.

Stay tuned. The two teams meet on Sept. 19 in the Swamp, and something tells me the buildup to that game will be pure, unadulterated entertainment.

Chris Low | email

College Football

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