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Posted: Thursday February 5, 2009 5:23PM; Updated: Friday February 6, 2009 12:47PM
Andy Staples Andy Staples >

Kiffin's comments on recruiting fuel war with Florida, SEC

Story Highlights

On Thursday, Lane Kiffin accused Urban Meyer of committing a recruiting violation

Meyer's actions were not against rules, but Kiffin's accusations violate SEC bylaw

With Meyer and other SEC coaches likely gunning for him, Kiffin's team better win

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Lane Kiffin's recruiting violation accusations center on receiving prospect Nu'keese Richardson.
Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin got into a recruiting war with Florida over receiver Nu'keese Richardson.
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On Wednesday, I wrote Lane Kiffin and his Tennessee staff would turn SEC recruiting into even more of a bloodbath than it already is. I meant next year, but Kiffin's already decided to go ahead and remove the gloves.

Speaking at a rally Thursday morning in Knoxville, Tenn., to celebrate his first recruiting class as Volunteers' coach, Kiffin blasted his biggest SEC East rival, accusing Florida coach Urban Meyer of cheating while recruiting Pahokee, Fla., receiver Nu'keese Richardson, who committed to Florida on May 30, 2008 but signed with the Vols on Wednesday.

"This is a recruiting violation. I'm going to turn Florida in right here in front of you," Kiffin told the crowd. "As Nu'keese was here on campus [this past weekend], his phone keeps ringing. So one of our coaches is sitting in the meeting with him. He says, 'Who's that?' He looks at the phone and 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 had to cheat and still didn't get him."

Kiffin may want to re-read his NCAA manual before he starts slinging accusations, because there is no such rule. Richardson visited Knoxville during what the NCAA considers a "contact period," meaning any coach from any school was perfectly within his rights to call him.

Kiffin may also want to consult the SEC rulebook.

"Coach Kiffin has violated the Southeastern Conference Code of Ethics," SEC commissioner Mike Slive said in a statement. "SEC Bylaw 10.5.1 clearly states that coaches and administrators shall refrain from directed public criticism of other member institutions, their staffs or players.

"The phone call to which coach Kiffin referred to in his public comments is not a violation of SEC or NCAA rules. We expect our coaches to have an understanding and knowledge of conference and NCAA rules."

Meyer, who is tending to a family issue in Ohio, was unavailable for comment, but Florida's athletic director, Jeremy Foley, fired back with both barrels.

"It is obvious that Coach Kiffin doesn't know that there is not a rule precluding phone contact with a prospect during an official visit on another campus during a contact period," Foley said in a statement. "His allegations are inappropriate, out of line and, most importantly, totally false. It is completely unfair to Urban Meyer, our coaching staff, our football program and our institution. The appropriate action at this time in my opinion is for coach Kiffin to make a public apology.

"His comments not only slandered our coach, but he violated SEC rules by publicly criticizing another coach and institution."

A few hours later, Foley got his wish in the form of this statement from the Tennessee sports information office: "At an energetic breakfast with some of our donors and alumni I made a statement that was solely meant to excite the crowd," Kiffin said. "If I offended anyone at the University of Florida, including Mr. Foley and Urban Meyer, I sincerely apologize. That was not my intention."

If Kiffin didn't intend to offend Meyer by calling him a cheater, what did he intend to do? Kiffin had better hope his coaching staff -- which is excellent, by the way -- whips the 5-7 team he inherited into shape by Sept. 19. That's when the Vols visit The Swamp, where Meyer and the defending national champs will be waiting. And in case Kiffin isn't clear on how Meyer handles slights, he can call Georgia's Mark Richt. Richt's players flooded the end zone on the first touchdown of the Bulldogs' victory against the Gators in 2007. Despite the fact that Richt spent the next 12 months apologizing for the incident, Meyer still burned two late timeouts to rub in a 49-10 beatdown when the teams met again. If Meyer humiliated Richt, a coach he respects, for that transgression, imagine what he wants to do to Kiffin.

Kiffin's mouth isn't the only thing that could get him in trouble. His thumbs apparently also lack a filter. Richardson told The Palm Beach Post that during his visit, Kiffin grabbed his cell phone and thumbed a text message -- as Richardson -- to Pahokee coach Blaze Thompson. Kiffin was only joking, but Thompson, already upset at the way Kiffin handled Richardson's recruitment, was not amused.

So not only did Kiffin anger a coach at a high school that produces prospects every year, he gave every college coach in America ammunition to use against him. Not only does he not know the NCAA manual, he bragged publicly about encouraging a recruit to lie to those around him. "We had a great plan on how to steer Florida away from [Richardson] so they thought we weren't getting him," Kiffin said at the rally. "He came out in the paper that Friday and said he wasn't even coming to visit us, so that what would happen was the people down there, the pressure would stay off of him and they wouldn't go try to get him. They'd think they still had him."

Even though dozens of coaches use this tactic, they don't crow about it with a TV camera running. If I'm Meyer, Richt, Steve Spurrier or Nick Saban, my first question to a recruit's mother would be, "Would you want your son to play for a man who encouraged him to lie?"

Meyer isn't exactly viewed as Mother Teresa in the recruiting world. Notre Dame fans hate him for swiping committed players Justin Trattou and Omar Hunter in consecutive years. Kiffin, in the absence of evidence of wrongdoing, probably could have found a way to cast his rival in a poor light. But if you're going to publicly accuse someone of breaking a rule, you'd better have him dead to rights, and you'd better make sure you're accusing him of something that's actually illegal.

If Kiffin wants to talk like this, he'd better win, and he'd better win quickly. He and his staff also will have to run the cleanest recruiting operation in football, because they've ticked off practically every coach in the league. One assistant, David Reaves, left South Carolina and immediately began recruiting South Carolina commitments. So Spurrier would love to turn in Tennessee. Kiffin swiped assistant Lance Thompson from Alabama's staff. So Saban would love to turn in Tennessee. Thursday, five-star Lake Charles, La., recruit Janzen Jackson -- previously an LSU commitment -- signed with Tennessee. So Les Miles would love to turn in Tennessee.

And after Kiffin swiped Richardson and defensive back Marsalis Teague from Florida's recruiting class, Meyer would love to turn in Tennessee. Of course, he'd probably settle for a 50-point beating when the Gators and Vols meet in The Swamp in September.

AP: Kiffin apologizes for cheating accusations
ARMSTRONG: Kiffin knowingly poked the bear
STAPLES: Chronicling the best Signing Day stories
MANDEL: A trend emerges, Signing Day awards
RIVALS: All the NSD announcements, switches

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