Last week when new Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin made his now-infamous remarks to a bunch of UT boosters and fans about Florida coach Urban Meyer, I got a chuckle or two out of it.
It obviously was a case of a Tennessee coach taking a shot a Florida, the program UT — and everyone else in America — is chasing in its quest for gridiron supremacy. The Vols had just gotten a recruit, Nu'Keese Richardson, the Gators really wanted. Kiffin crowed about it.
I won't pretend to know what Kiffin was thinking when he insinuated that Meyer had to 'cheat' to try to prevent Richardson from going to Knoxville. As we all know by now, Kiffin insinuated that Meyer broke NCAA rules by calling Richardson multiple times while Richardson was in Knoxville for his official visit.
It wasn't a rule, and the SEC reprimanded Kiffin and made him apologize. The league probably doesn't take too kindly to its flagship football program being accused of cheating in the national press — especially with a huge TV deal with ESPN on the horizon.
But the shocking thing is that this has taken on a life of its own. Columnists all over the South are talking about Kiffin. Paul Finebaum said in the Mobile Press-Register that Kiffin has embarrassed UT so badly that they should go ahead and fire him.
At the risk of ripping off Seth Meyers — really? Is what he said really that bad? I guess no other SEC coach would ever stoop so low. Oh, except for South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who accused Kiffin of cheating when he called a recruit before the official press conference announcing his hire. Guess what? Turned out Kiffin didn't break any rules. I remember everybody chuckling about 'Steve being Steve' with no one going into hysterics.
Sure, maybe it was unwise for Kiffin to shoot his mouth off at the current national champion. After all, Florida might get mad and really beat Tennessee bad next year. Oh yeah, Florida already has been beating Tennessee badly. The Gators beat the Vols by a combined score of 89-26 the last two years under Phillip Fulmer, who went to great lengths not to offend opposing coaches.
So much for that.
This may come as a shock to some folks, but the SEC is no longer your father's — or grandfather's — SEC. This league is now a take-no-prisoners, no-holds-barred league. The days of the coaches all being buddies and poor-mouthing their teams is over. In terms of fan interest, money involved and intensity, the SEC all by itself is second only to the NFL. In terms of the dislike the coaches have for one another, it's probably more cut-throat than the NFL.
SEC football is now a bloodsport. The league has four coaches who have won national titles. Boosters pour big money into their programs. Kiffin has to show UT is playing for big stakes. Should he have accused a rival program of breaking a rule that doesn't exist? Of course not. Should he be more careful in the future? You bet.
But in this day and age, Kiffin has to send the message — any way he can — that the Vols aren't going to be doormats for Florida, Georgia and Alabama anymore.
Last Wednesday, everyone in America talked about UT's two biggest rivals — Alabama and Florida — having the two best recruiting classes in America.
Ever since then, the national and Southern press has talked about Tennessee football.
I bet Kiffin's getting a chuckle or two out of that.