HOOVER, Ala. — Tennessee's Lane Kiffin has been in the Southeastern Conference less than eight months and has yet to coach a game in the league. But he has already made enough eye-popping statements to compile a greatest hits collection.
That might have catapulted him ahead of Tim Tebow, Nick Saban and Urban Meyer as the main attraction at SEC Media Days this week.
The anticipation level was raised even higher by the fact that he was the last coach to take the podium. What would Lane say next? More accusations of opposing coaches bending the rules? More outlandish predictions or boasts after beating out other schools for a recruit?
Kiffin played it pretty straight for the most part and even attempted to explain his shenanigans as calculated episodes to bring energy and attention to a program that had fallen off the map in recent years.
"We had to put Tennessee in the national media," he said. "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. I read an article that said Tennessee football has been the most talked about football program in all of college football through the off-season. Think about that statement, guys. If you're a 17-year-old kid, all the way down to eighth grade, if you've seen Tennessee's logo more than any other school, and you've seen our staff talked about, our players talked about, we're creating interest, and it's shown."
Kiffin's plan has come with some backlash. He's taken some verbal snipes from coaches and media across the league. And Kiffin admitted that the parent of a recruit questioned him in his office about whether Tennessee was on its way to becoming a renegade program like the Miami of old.
But the Tennessee players haven't had any problems with Kiffin's antics, and they even seem to be re-energized by them.
"We were 5-7 last year," said senior defensive back Eric Berry. "We thought we were in it by ourselves and didn't have anybody by our side. But him saying some of the things he said, the team went crazy. It was like, 'Man, he really does believe in us.' Seeing somebody who has that kind of faith in us after a 5-7 season, who wouldn't want to play for him or lay it out on the line for him?"
At least with regard to off-the-field bravado, Kiffin seems to be following the path that South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier cleared back in his Florida days. Part of the Spurrier mystique was the brash and bold statements he made to ruffle others' feathers while the Gators' head coach. But Spurrier was winning SEC titles back in those days. He's been basically a .500 coach since arriving at South Carolina and has quieted down his rhetoric considerably.
"I'm often asked: Do you wish you hadn't said this years ago, done this?" Spurrier said. "I say, yeah, probably looking back, that was a little arrogant. I probably said too many things.
"But in life, when you're winning a lot and you're winning sort of big, you naturally do that. I'm not the only coach that has done that. And then when you're 7-and-6, like I am now, you don't have much to say. That's just the way it is. I'm a 7-and-6 sort of coach right now. I don't have all the answers and don't pretend to."
In fairness to Kiffin, he's done some good things at Tennessee that might have gotten a little lost in the hyperbole. He hired a well-regarded (and well-paid) coaching staff that includes his dad, Monte, the longtime defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And despite not being able to hire several of his assistants until after the NFL season was completed, he was able to put together a solid recruiting class led by running back Bryce Brown, the nation's top prospect.
"I felt when I put this staff together that it was the best staff in the country," Kiffin said. "Now that I've had a chance to work with them and see them recruit, I feel even more strongly about that. I'll probably take heat for this, but I really think you have to spend money to make money. When you go out and get those coaches, that's going to translate into recruiting, winning, ticket sales, your team doing better. I don't think you ever ask those questions again. Does anybody ever write anymore how much they paid Nick Saban at Alabama?
"When he was hired at Alabama, every article was, 'I can't believe how much we paid Nick Saban at Alabama.' Well, guess what, nobody writes about it any more because they win."
Kiffin said the headline-grabbing episodes figure to die down a little bit now that the off-season is over and games are about to begin.
"Now you have to back it up," he said. "It's part of the plan. It's part of the timing of things. Now we have it out there and have this energy about our program nationally, and that's what we needed to do. Does it tone down now? Naturally it tones down because there's something to focus on. What else were you going to focus on? There weren't any games being played. The only thing to focus on was what was going on in the off-season. Now there's real ball to focus on."