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Inside Urban Meyer's Forgotten Rivalry with Lane Kiffin

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterDecember 30, 2014

Lane Kiffin (left) and Urban Meyer (right) after their lone SEC battle in 2009.
Lane Kiffin (left) and Urban Meyer (right) after their lone SEC battle in 2009.John Raoux

How much star power does a matchup between Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Alabama's Nick Saban possess?

So much that Alabama's big-name offensive coordinator once publicly accused Meyer of cheating—and nobody seems to be talking about it.

But that's exactly what happened five years ago when Lane Kiffin took over as the head coach at Tennessee. Celebrating his first signing day with the Volunteers, Kiffin looked to make a splash, taking aim at Meyer, then the head coach at Florida.

"I'm going to turn Florida in right here in front of you," Kiffin said as he addressed a crowd of donors about the recruitment of new Tennessee wide receiver Nu'Keese Richardson.

"As Nu'Keese was here on campus, his phone keeps ringing. And so one of our coaches is sitting in a meeting with him and he says, 'Who's that?' and he looks at the phone and it says 'Urban Meyer.' Just so you know, when a recruit's on another campus, you can't call a recruit on another campus.

"I love the fact that Urban Meyer had to cheat and still didn't get him."

Lane Kiffin has revitalized his career as the offensive coordinator at Alabama.
Lane Kiffin has revitalized his career as the offensive coordinator at Alabama.Wade Payne/Associated Press

As it turned out, Meyer wasn't cheating—there was and is no rule that prohibits a coach from calling an unsigned recruit on another campus. It wasn't the first time that Meyer found himself in the crosshairs of Kiffin, who guaranteed a victory over the reigning national champion Gators in his introductory press conference at Tennessee.

"I'm really looking forward to embracing some of the great traditions at the University of Tennessee," Kiffin said. "Singing 'Rocky Top' all night long after we beat Florida next year. It's going to be a blast, OK? So get ready."

Kiffin never got to that, as the Gators beat the Volunteers by a score of 23-13 nine months later. It proved to be to last SEC battle between Meyer and Kiffin, as the latter left for Southern California after just one season in Knoxville, with cameras allegedly capturing Meyer happily receiving the news.

Although it was brief, the Meyer-Kiffin rivalry was certainly memorable, a brash up-and-coming head coach unapologetically needling the then-king of college football. Meyer, for his part, never seemed to take the bait, although it's no secret that Kiffin's words were used as motivation inside the Florida locker room.

"I don't like anybody talking [negatively] about Coach Meyer," star quarterback Tim Tebow said, per The Commercial Appeal.

It wasn't just Kiffin whose time in the SEC wouldn't last much longer, as Meyer would retire from Florida in 2011 before taking over the Ohio State program in 2012. Kiffin, meanwhile, wore out his welcome in Los Angeles and was fired by USC in the middle of the 2013 season.

Kiffin has since revitalized his career this past season as Alabama's offensive coordinator, installing hurry-up elements into Saban's formerly traditional offense. His time in Tuscaloosa has also indirectly put him back on a collision course with Meyer, whose No. 4 Buckeyes will face the top-ranked Crimson Tide in Thursday's College Football Playoff semifinal Sugar Bowl.

So why isn't anybody talking about the revival of one of college football's greatest lost rivalries?

Mostly because the matchup between Meyer and Saban leaves few headlines left for anybody else. But also because, just as Meyer claimed five years ago, the ill-will between the two appears to be water under the bridge.

"Coach Meyer and myself communicated a few times over texts and a phone call," Kiffin said at his Sugar Bowl press conference on Monday.

"It was really just kind of, 'Hey, this kind of crap from before, let's move on.' Obviously I have a great respect for what he's done everywhere he's been and how fast he's gotten this program up to being a top-four team in the country.

"That was just one of my many mistakes."

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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