Lane Kiffin says he's sorry, but is he really?
Baby-faced and new to the SEC, the former USC offensive coordinator who learned at the side of Pete Carroll is a recruiting wars veteran. When he called out Urban Meyer at the "energetic breakfast" with his donors, Kiffin was playing to the crowd. It wasn't a misinterpretation of the NCAA rulebook or the SEC's code of ethics. He had to have known he was lobbing a grenade in Meyer's direction Thursday.
As the new killer on the block, Kiffin has been poking the bear -- be it Meyer, Steve Spurrier at South Carolina or Nick Saban at Alabama -- since he got the job. While this one drew an SEC reprimand, he's also stoking the flames of his fan base. Publicly he is backtracking, but on campus he'll rally his Volunteer army, stirring them into an "Us vs. Them" craze. His released apology statement might as well have come with a free calendar that has the date Sept. 19 circled on it in Orange -- that's when the Vols visit The Swamp. Since he can't play any on-field games until Sept. 5 against Western Kentucky, Kiffin decided to pick a February fight.
This is hardball in the pigskin form around National Signing Day. Coaching under Al Davis tested his mettle, but the world of recruiting can make Oakland's Black Hole seem docile. Navigating a scene replete with bump rules and touch-and-tell tales of improper contact with recruits, Kiffin went off the beaten path and tried to shove Meyer from his rarefied position atop the landscape. Florida fired back, charging Kiffin with slandering its coach and speaking on faulty ground regarding the conference's code of conduct. That the SEC has a code of ethics may be most surprising to those who follow the bloodsport activities, but Kiffin will now be branded a brat by rivals. If there's ever smoke of wrongdoing emanating from Rocky Top, his rivals will no doubt point to the fire. Bring it on, he'll say. There's nothing like a fight to a shark.
It all makes for grand theater, pitting the fresh-faced newcomer as the aspiring foil for the two-time national champion before he ever wears a headset. Meyer's one of the handiest recruiters in the business, using his cell phone in more ways than he deploys Percy Harvin on the field. That Kiffin would call him out -- as false as the claim actually was -- shows he has the killer instinct in him. He's throwing rocks at Meyer's throne, and he's not going to stop. He may retreat behind an official statement or spokesperson, but you can bet he's measuring the weapons in his arsenal and wondering what way he can win the war despite losing the first publicity battle. After all, Kiffin poached two of Meyer's commits. That shouldn't be lost in all of this. He's already gaining ground.