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October 29, 2009

Column: Kiffin's comments reflect poorly on SEC

Whatever happened to showing class?

Think of some of the things you didn't hear after Saturday's game between the University of Alabama football team and Tennessee.

"What two great plays by an All-American and probable future first-round draft pick. I'd like to say maybe we'll figure out a way to block him next year, but thankfully we'll never have to face him again."

"It's disappointing that we made so many penalties, but we just can't do those things if we're going to beat a team like Alabama. We made the kinds of mistakes we had avoided earlier in the season. Hopefully we'll learn from this and do a better job next week."

"That was surprising that our headphones didn't work at the start of the game. Maybe next time our guys will do a better job of setting that up."

Welcome to Excuses 101 where Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin has blamed everyone and everything for just about anything imaginable and has it down to an art form. He also clearly hasn't learned from his previous gaffes.

The latest chapter of the soap opera transpired earlier this week in Knoxville, where the high road no longer seems to go.

"I wasn't going to let the refs lose the game for us there and some magical flag appear," he told reporters Sunday after being asked why he didn't try to get closer for the final field-goal attempt, which was blocked. "We put ourselves in a position to win. At that point, we're nine penalties to one. We're the second-least penalized team in the country going in. They're 60th in the country, and you go down there and it's very disappointing to have nine flags thrown at you and one at them. That's very hard to deal with."

Kiffin also complained about senior nose tackle Terrence Cody throwing his helmet in celebration after blocking the low kick.

"The guy throws his helmet as the ball's still live," he said. "He throws his helmet and then two of their guys go and recover the ball. It's a 15-yard penalty and you kick again. I'm sure we'll get one of those letters that really means nothing, as (Arkansas coach) Bobby (Petrino) got last week. But Florida and Alabama live on."
For his comments, Kiffin was publicly reprimanded for a second time by Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive.

He got off easy.

We'll break it down why:

1. Tennessee's penalties.

It doesn't matter how many times the Volunteers were penalized in the past, if someone commits an infraction it should be called, period. UT was flagged for three false starts, pass interference after Julio Jones effectively blocked out the defender with his body, an illegal block on a punt return, delay of game, roughing the kicker and two holding calls in which an offensive lineman grabbed and pulled the defensive lineman to the ground in the backfield (one was declined).

So which of those penalties should not have been called? None of them.

2. Cody's helmet.

For some reason the national media hasn't caught on that Cody removing his helmet in that circumstance was not a penalty. The SEC even said so in a statement issued before Kiffin's comments Sunday: "The foul for taking helmet off is a live ball foul treated as a dead-ball foul. That is, if it happens on a play where time does not expire then the penalty is enforced on the following play. However, since the clock ran out on that play, then there is no next play so there is no penalty to mark off."
CBS announcer Gary Danielson went on a regional radio show to admit that he didn't know the rule correctly and apologized. Unfortunately, he was the only one.

3. Conspiracy theory.

Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of what's been coming out of Tennessee has been the insinuation that other teams are purposely getting favorable calls, which is a blatant shot at the conference's integrity.

Consider what Ed Orgeron told the Knoxville Quarterback Club on Monday: "Seems like some people get the calls and some people don't. I've been in this league and I've been a part of that. Whether that's true or not, you can never prove that. I do know this: there were some very questionable calls in that game that could have went either way and they went Alabama's side. There were very questionable calls throughout the season and it seems they go for the better team. Whether that's true or not, we can never prove that but that's what it seems like."

However, the biggest non-call Saturday should have been on Tennessee for pass-interference in the end zone on the fade attempt to Jones on third-and-2 at the 4-yard line. Alabama gets that touchdown just before halftime and the game takes a completely different tone. Even with the call, the Tide led by two scores until the final two minutes.

At least Orgeron stopped short of saying Tennessee lost because of the officiating.
"You cannot make excuses to your team," the defensive line coach said. "You've got to beat them all. The better team you have, the less you're going to complain about the officials."

Perhaps that's why the other two coaches to cry out about calls this past week were from Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, which are already close to being eliminated from bowl consideration. Dan Mullen was reprimanded after saying the replay official who worked the 29-19 loss to Florida should be disciplined for not overturning an interception return for a touchdown by Gators linebacker Dustin Doe, who might have fumbled before reaching the goal line.

"Might" is the key word there because it sure looked like he did, only the replay official actually made the correct call. If you look at it frame-by-frame, it's impossible to tell where the ball is in relation to the goal-line when he lost control. It doesn't matter where the player's leg is and the official can't assume the ball's location, it has to be irrefutable for him to overturn a call made on the field. That's the way the rule is written up and enforced.

"As a coach, that's part of the game," Coach Nick Saban said in general about controversial calls, but also demonstrated the right way to handle the situation (for which he'll get no credit from critics): "I've been in other leagues and in bowl games and our officials do a marvelous job here. Are they perfect? No. Do they make everything perfect? Probably not. None of us do. But the spirit of making corrections should be done through the proper channels in the SEC office."

He later elaborated.

"I think our league does a phenomenal job in every way and I don't think there's a place to criticize publicly other parts of our conference and other groups in our league, whether it's other schools or officiating or anything else. To me, we should all be trying to enhance our league to make it better.

"It's the best thing for the league and we are good because we have a lot of coaches who have done that and done it extremely well and showed a tremendous amount of professionalism in everything that they do, not only running their program, but enhancing our league."

That's coming from a coach who's won a national championship.

Kiffin? He's won one SEC game.

Let's backtrack to the controversial offseason when Kiffin signed a recruit who at the age of 13 was found by a juvenile court to have helped rape a relative, was involved in numerous secondary NCAA violations, led a coaching staff that bragged it would build a "fence around Memphis" (and has yet to sign any of the city's top prospects), suddenly replaced strength coach Mark Smith in favor of Aaron Ausmus, and landed a commitment from Eric Berry's brother at age 13.

When something went wrong on signing day with Pahokee (Fla.) High School receiver Nu'Keese Richardson, he lashed out: "Someone at the school was going to screw it up. The fax machine wouldn't work, or they would have changed the signatures, all the things that go on in Pahokee."

He also said, "For those of you who haven't been to Pahokee, there ain't much going on. You take that hour drive up from South Florida, there ain't a gas station that works. Nobody's got enough money to even have shoes or a shirt on."

Richardson was also the player who initially committed to Florida, and Urban Myer called when he was visiting Tennessee.

"I love the fact that Urban had to cheat and still didn't get him," Kiffin incorrectly boasted, and, "I'm really looking forward to embracing some of the great traditions at the University of Tennessee. For instance the Vol Walk, running through the T, singing Rocky Top all night long after we beat Florida next year, it will be a blast."
Except Florida won.

After Tennessee beat Georgia, Kiffin kicked the Bulldogs when they were down.

"He basically made a promise to us that we wouldn't lose to them anymore, forever or until he leaves," All-American safety and Atlanta native Eric Berry told reporters. "He's not going to let Georgia beat us."
This week UT hosts South Carolina, and freshman receiver Alshon Jeffery revealed that when he was being recruited Kiffin told him that he would end up pumping gas if he signed with the Gamecocks.

"I'm moving on from last week," Kiffin said Wednesday on the weekly coaches' conference call when asked if he felt like he'd been treated fairly by the SEC since taking the Tennessee job. "I'm not getting into conversations about it and whether I feel that we have been treated different than, per se, Florida or Alabama or Nick Saban or Urban Meyer. I'm going to stay away from it and get ready for this week. We need to get a win. We've got a big-time team coming in here."

Kiffin's done a lot of things right at Tennessee which no one hears about, like the team's grades are up and the Vols have 15 players who have their degrees. On the field, UT had good showings against Florida and Alabama, when both were No. 1.

But here are words you don't hear associated with Tennessee football, which consequently makes the entire conference look bad: Integrity, responsibility, accountability, and yes, class.


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