Friday, July 24, 2009
Kiffin not apologizing for behavior
HOOVER, Ala. -- Lane Kiffin has made no secret that he wanted to make a splash at Tennessee, drawing recruits and attention to the program.
And the brash 34-year-old coach wasn't apologizing Friday for his tactics -- even if it meant rankling some other teams' coaches and fans.
"We had to put Tennessee in the national media," Kiffin said at Southeastern Conference media days. "Do I love every single thing I've done for my seven months? No, I haven't loved having to do it. But it needed to be done, in my opinion, for us to get to where we needed to be."
The hiring of Kiffin and Auburn's Gene Chizik met with some skepticism. Both have resumes that included dismal records in limited head coaching experience at tough jobs, along with impressive track records as assistants.
Kiffin, a former Southern California assistant, was 5-15 with the NFL's Oakland Raiders. Chizik sports a 5-19 mark after two seasons at Iowa State but was part of an unbeaten season as Auburn's defensive coordinator and then a national championship at Texas.
ESPN.com's Chris Low writes about all things SEC in his conference blog.
Neither seems to let the doubters faze them.
"We don't really pay any attention to all of the external issues out there," Chizik said of the Tigers. "We put enough pressure on ourselves to be great."
Chizik hasn't created nearly the publicity ripple that Kiffin has stirred up in the months since their hirings.
Kiffin has piled it on with comments that included accusing Florida's Urban Meyer of cheating after national signing day. The verbal exchanges between coaches was a hot topic in the SEC's spring meetings, where Kiffin said "Urban was very nice to me."
Kiffin's comments have been much more warmly received among his players, safety Eric Berry said.
"Just seeing somebody having that type of faith in us after a 5-7 season, who wouldn't want to play for him?" Berry said. "Who wouldn't want to put themselves on the line for him? That's what we're doing right now in this offseason. That's what we're going to do in the season."
Negative comments are bringing negative recruiting against the Volunteers, too, as evidenced when a recruit's worried mom sat on his office couch earlier this week.
"She said to me, 'Well, we really like everything about Tennessee, but another coach told us, 'Why would you ever go to Tennessee? It's a renegade program. They're going to become the next Miami, what Miami used to be,'" Kiffin said. He pointed to the team's grade-point average to demonstrate that the Vols aren't renegades.
South Carolina's Steve Spurrier might have been supplanted by Kiffin as the league's most outspoken coach, a reputation that dates back to his days at Florida. That included dubbing Florida State "Free Shoes University" and saying you can't spell Citrus without UT, referring to Tennessee's stints at the Citrus Bowl.
"It's something I'm often asked, 'Do you wish you hadn't said this years ago?" Spurrier said. "Probably looking back I was a little arrogant and probably said too many things. But when you're winning a lot and winning sort of big, you naturally do that."
However, sometimes there's virtue in keeping your mouth shut.
"I think we all try to let our teams do the talking for you as a coach," Spurrier said. "That's the best way to do it."
Chizik drew plenty of publicity in Alabama when his assistant coaches piled into a limo for a "Tiger Prowl" recruiting tour en masse to selected high schools across the state.
The low-key Chizik doesn't exactly court attention or crave it for himself.
"I've got three children and my wife. I get plenty of attention when I go home," he said. "What gets you attention is when you win. It's that simple. I don't have to go out and try to gather attention for myself. This isn't about me. It is about Auburn.
"I don't care to draw a lot of attention to myself. It's who I am."
One thing neither Kiffin nor Chizik are having to combat this summer is high outside expectations. Auburn was picked to finish fifth in the SEC West by league media while Tennessee was projected at No. 4 in the Eastern Division.
"Everybody's got an opinion," Chizik said. "Everybody's entitled to their opinion. But the last time I checked I don't think the rankings at the end of the year had anything to do with the rankings at the beginning."