Lane Kiffin and His Vols Lost The Battle vs the Gators, But Are Winning The War
Every coach in college football is measured by one thing: wins and losses. There are times, however, when coaches are hired to revive programs, where you can count other things as measuring points on the job coaches are doing.
When Tennessee hired Lane Kiffin, the Vols were covered in mediocrity and had zero momentum on the national media. Kiffin's job, as he perceived, was to first get UT back on the front page in order to help recruiting and fan excitement.
Over the next several months, Kiffin did whatever he felt he needed to do. Sometimes, by his own admission, saying things he'd later say he wished he hadn't because of the light shed upon him.
"There are some things I said that I didn’t like to say that I had to say on purpose," Kiffin told Chris Low of ESPN.com.
Obviously, rival fans have had a field day with Kiffin's comments, most of which has come from Florida.
The Gators seemed to be Kiffin's main target, from his opening press conference all the way to a luncheon with boosters where he mistakenly accused Urban Meyer of violating NCAA rules. One for Meyer.
Florida fans have spent several months champing at the bit for a chance to get Kiffin. They made T-shirts, heck, the coaching staff even put Kiffin's quotes in the locker room of the defending National Champion.
The Swamp was packed. Signs threatening the impending blowout that most fans and experts are so sure is coming are displayed all over the stadium. The spread is 30. The massacre is on.
Except, not really.
Behind a gutsy, fast, never say die defense, the Vols hold the Gators to 23 points. Yes, I said 23 points. Offensively, a conservative gameplan was designed to keep from turning the ball over and keeping the game close.
See, part of the genius of Kiffin's plan of attack was something no one would have expected, his humbleness.
Kiffin knew that any chance at victory was pinned to a defensive or special teams touchdown, that he wouldn't outscore Florida on offense alone.
The Vols didn't get that "special" TD, and fell to the Gators 23-13. Score one for Meyer.
No moral victories, that's what everyone says. No, but you can take positives out of the game and see the victories racking up in other places.
Lane Kiffin's tactics in the off-season could be questionable to some, and understandably so. The ends, so far, have justified the means.
As a result of the excitement created by Kiffin and staff, the Vols were propelled above Florida in the 2009 recruiting class at both Rivals.com and Scout.com.
At the time of this article, Tennessee is currently ahead of Florida for the 2010 class, as well. Score 2 for Kiffin.
Part of the excitement around the UT program has been the attention it has gotten from the national media. Kiffin has lived by the "any attention is good attention" creed so far, and it's hard to argue with as time goes along.
Tennessee, a 5-7 team last year, has seen more face time on national television than any other school, including defending National Champion Florida.
That's a huge statement, considering Florida still has Jesus II, Tim Tebow, on the roster. That's another for Kiffin.
Before the game Saturday, CBS went to Kiffin for a pregame interview. At halftime, they chased Kiffin to the locker room, but failing to snag an interview. After the game, CBS ran to Urban Meyer, the winning coach. Wait a second. What?
No. After the game, after Florida won the game, CBS went straight to Lane Kiffin, spurning the winning coach and winner of two of the last three BCS National Championships. Think about that, it almost never happens. Ever. Yes, one more for Kiffin.
After the game, Meyer was struggling to find ways to justify his team's close game with an opponent they felt they'd blow out. After Tim Tebow admitted he'd asked Meyer to save time outs for the end of the game to rub the blowout in.
What did Meyer turn to? Meyer publicly accused Lane Kiffin of basically tanking the game, saying he didn't "play to win."
Kind of ironic, rivals of UT have blasted Kiffin for causing Mike Slive to crack down on this kind of talk at the SEC meetings, and it's Urban Meyer who violates Slive's wishes first, not Kiffin. Another for Kiffin.
In addition to breaking the SEC commissioner's clearly stated rule, Urban went on to copout and downplay UT's effort by claiming his team was sick with the flu.
Funny, no one spoke a word about the flu when everyone was talking about a 65-0 score before the game?
Kiffin retorts, "I don't know. I guess we'll wait and see and if we're not excited about our performance we'll tell you that everybody was sick." That should really count for about 10, but that's 1 more for Kiffin.
Even today, Tuesday, the national talk shows are blasting Meyer for making the excuses he's made. He's the leader of the No 1 team in the nation and is blaming a flu bug no one had heard of for him being out-coached, and only winning because Kiffin is handicapped at quarterback.
At the same time, they are applauding Kiffin for his refusal to back down. In his post game interview, he told CBS's Tracy Wolfson, "Sorry, I didn't hear the question, they are playing Rocky Top." They are applauding Kiffin for basically laughing at Meyer's excuses and back-peddling. That's another 1 for Lane.
All in all, Kiffin is winning everywhere except on the field. Any logical person should be able to see that if Kiffin can get within 10 of Florida on the road while they are number 1, that it won't be long until this rivalry is back on at least even footing.
People can criticize Lane Kiffin all they want, they can hate Lane Kiffin all they want, he's fine with that. Kiffin doesn't care, he cares about UT fans, the school and his football team.
On Saturday, the Vols lost on the scoreboard, but they won in the media and the eyes of a lot of recruits.
Besides Eric Berry's de-virginizing of Tim Tebow and Janzen Jackson making Brandon James think he'd been hit by a car, Kiffin's confidence and poise was the most exciting thing Vols fans have seen in years.
Yes, Florida fans, Urban Meyer won on the field Saturday, but he's lost everywhere else. Watch your back. It won't be long until Kiffin has his players in place and when he does, you may lose the only place you've beaten Kiffin at so far.
In the Meyer/Kiffin War, right now I count 7 to 2 in favor of Kiffin. Lane Kiffin lost the battle Saturday, but is winning his war against Florida and Urban Meyer.
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