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Friday, October 23, 2009
Updated: October 26, 2:28 PM ET
Heath Shuler is a Lane Kiffin booster

By Heath Shuler
Special to Page 2

What first struck me about Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin was the intensity of his coaches and players at practice.

I hit a spring ball practice earlier this year, and saw that Kiffin already had his athletes and coaches playing at nearly the intensity of game days. You first must practice at that level, and there sure was evidence of that.

Heath Shuler
Heath Shuler, who passed for 4,089 yards and 36 TDs as Tennessee's quarterback, likes the direction Lane Kiffin is headed.

Kiffin played music during practice, something I thought I'd never see at Tennessee. Right in the middle of practice -- in a goal-line stand -- he cued the music, and it was easy to see the athletes transform their attention, motivation and intensity levels, which were as game-like as I've ever seen.

When I asked Kiffin about it, he said that on trips, bus rides and the Vol Walk, the players prepare themselves for the game by plugging into their iPods. I listened to music before games, too, but it was on a Walkman. Kiffin uses music to motivate his players to ignore the heat and fatigue, and even pits the offense and defense in competitions in which the winners choose the next day's music.

This tells me he's on the level of the players. He understands them and what motivates them.

He also chose a smaller salary in exchange for being able to spend more for high-quality assistant coaches. That demonstrates Kiffin cares more about long-term results than a big paycheck. He picked some of the best assistant coaches in America, and they're great recruiters on top of being great coaches.

It's funny that Kiffin has been criticized for publicly taunting other schools or using a helicopter to fly to high school games for recruiting purposes. His comments have led to a ton of publicity that you couldn't buy even if you had the money. He's making a big statement that Tennessee is back in the hunt.

The fans love it when you criticize Florida or other colleges on the schedule. That's one sure way to win over your fans and make them believe in you.

I have high expectations for Kiffin. Although UT lost to Florida at The Swamp, the Vols rebounded to blow out Georgia. Then UT turned around to nab a verbal commitment from A.J. Johnson, a 6-foot-3 junior linebacker from Gainesville, Ga., who had offers from 12 schools, right under Georgia's nose. Kiffin has shown a real commitment to recruiting that should propel Tennessee back toward the top of the conference.

Heath Shuler is a U.S. congressman representing North Carolina's 11th district. He played quarterback for the University of Tennessee from 1991 through 1993. He was the No. 3 overall selection in the 1994 NFL draft, and played professionally for the Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints.