DESTIN, Fla. -- Grasshopper, meet the master.
As five SEC football coaches -- Tennessee's Lane Kiffin, South Carolina's
Spurrier sighed, slumped his shoulders and turned on his heel. He walked a few feet to Kiffin, whose face reddened. "I didn't accuse you of cheating," said the man who coined the phrase "Free Shoes University" and who once reminded everyone that you can't spell Citrus without U-T. Then Spurrier explained the misunderstanding that produced those comments. That explanation lasted past the moment the doors shut. The only coach on board with a national title on his résumé was still talking.
Before you get too titillated, this wasn't a fight. Not even close. Most of the folks standing around were snickering. The exchange just proved once again that in the SEC, the fun never stops. It's too bad Commissioner
Kiffin's spring has proven that the league is a lot more interesting when it has a provocateur. And while reporters like the idiot you're reading now may have written off Kiffin as in over his head after the Meyer incident, Kiffin basically admitted Tuesday that much of his bluster was calculated.
And it worked.
Without playing a down, Kiffin has made Tennessee the most talked-about program in the country. For a guy who must scour the country to populate a program to compete with the juggernauts at Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU, publicity is crucial. And during the buildup Tuesday to the anticlimactic meeting between himself and Meyer in the Sandpiper C meeting room, Kiffin grabbed a little more.
At the 27-minute mark of pre-meeting interview session Kiffin finally cracked. "I did ask for adjoining rooms with Coach Meyer," he said.
Gentlemen, start your headlines.
Of course Kiffin kidded. He had to spend hours seated at the same table with Meyer. He didn't need Meyer popping his head into the room asking if Kiffin wanted to see his national championship rings. We lapped it up anyway. Within hours, a Google News search of the phrase "adjoining rooms" produced 65 stories that mentioned Tennessee -- right at the top of the page.
As longtime Volunteers sports information whiz
And he did. Somewhere in the package of material Kiffin brought to his interview with Vols athletic director
After his firing from the Oakland Raiders last October, Kiffin compiled a dossier on each college team with a head coach opening. For each program, he created an individualized plan to bring that team to prominence as quickly as possible. When he studied Tennessee, Kiffin saw a storied history dating back to Gen.
"We're not fortunate enough to just sit and go through our state and sign 23 of 25 players from our state and get it done," he said. "When you become a head coach, you take a specific plan into each job. ... This one, as I looked at it, needed to have a spark immediately as far as national exposure. It's a program that has had great coaches and great players over many years, but the way recruiting is nowadays, you can't go out and sign 50 guys. We've got to be able to have kids around the country -- and I'm talking about kids in middle school -- seeing Tennessee, seeing our logo, seeing our colors, seeing our players, being familiar with our staff. That was a lot to that.
"We haven't had a chance to play any games. And unfortunately there are no six-year plans anymore. ... We had to make an immediate impact."
So Kiffin started down a path worn smooth when Spurrier dominated the league as Florida's coach in the '90s. He launched offensives. He ruffled feathers. News outfits hungry for their next piece of grist and bloggers searching for snark-ready topics did the rest.
There is one crucial distinction between Kiffin's gigging of his colleagues and Spurrier's. Spurrier didn't start squawking until after he humbled the league, which was downright prehistoric before Spurrier returned to his alma mater in 1990. Kiffin didn't have the luxury of time to wait for the actual games, and given the team he returns relative to the talent in the rest of the league, Kiffin may need another recruiting class before the Vols show the kind of on-field improvement to justify his crowing.
But Kiffin understands he's essentially in the entertainment business. Like the WWE wrestler who realizes he'll make a bigger splash as a heel than as a babyface, Kiffin considers his words and their consequences to be occupational hazards.
Obviously, not all of Kiffin's gaffes were calculated. He certainly didn't want everyone to know that the program had turned itself in for a few secondary violations.
"I'm on [ESPN's
He's also controlling the message. Meyer, who has only won two of the past three national titles, found himself dragged into two national stories this offseason primarily because he hadn't talked in a while and we hunger for any scraps about the defending champs. Later, Spurrier cracked on
Maybe he should have taken a few swipes at Kiffin or at Alabama's
Indeed, Meyer and Kiffin's meeting was firework-free. According to Meyer, he said hello, and that was that. Disappointed? You weren't the only one.