KNOXVILLE — New University of Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin verbally jabbed back Saturday at South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier.
Spurrier, a longtime UT rival, has questioned whether Kiffin took the NCAA’s mandatory recruiting test before speaking with high school prospects.
Kiffin, at 33 the youngest football head coach in NCAA Division I, has said several times that he took the test before calling prospects, but he spiced up the story Saturday.
“If Steve’s concerned about my test, I got 39 out of 40,” Kiffin quipped. “I’d like to see what he got.”
Kiffin has hired two members of Spurrier’s South Carolina staff — including strength and conditioning coach Mark Smith, who has worked for the Southeastern Conference legend since his head-coaching days at Florida.
David Reaves, the Gamecocks’ former quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator, also left Columbia to work for Kiffin.
Reaves, Kiffin’s brother-in-law, isn’t the most well-known relative he’s hired. Kiffin confirmed Saturday that he has but secured his father, longtime Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, for a similar position with the Vols. He also confirmed midweek reports that he hired Oakland Raiders assistant offensive line coach James Cregg.
Lane Kiffin, the former Raiders head coach, didn’t seem concerned with the hurt feelings that have surfaced from reports in Oakland and South Carolina.
Cregg, Oakland’s primary offensive line coach since Tom Cable was promoted to interim head coach, left the Raiders with two games left in the regular season, and Cable lashed out through the media.
“I don’t really care,” Lane Kiffin said. “I’m not concerned about that. I’ve got a job to do in our athletic department, and that’s to put together the best staff we can put together and the best players we can put together.”
Lane Kiffin said his dad’s hiring is “basically official” and that he expects him in Knoxville two days after Tampa Bay’s season concludes.
“That hire was extremely important for a number of reasons,” Lane Kiffin said. “As we evaluated different people, we felt this was the best defensive coordinator in all of football — college or the NFL.
“That enables us to have a great defensive scheme in place, number one. But number two, (it allows us) to go anywhere in the country and any defensive player’s home and be able to present something that they can’t get anywhere else in college football.”
Lane Kiffin said he’d like to have his entire staff in place by the second week of January. He said he will run the offense, although he still may hire an offensive coordinator, and Monte Kiffin will run the defense.
“There’s been people that have tried for years and years to get Monte out of Tampa,” Lane Kiffin said. “He’s basically been offered two head coaching jobs in the National Football League while he was in Tampa. Both jobs were just a matter of getting on the plane and going to accept it, and he turned down both of those. He’s been close to leaving at times, but nobody’s ever been able to get him out.
“It’s really amazing that we were able to pull off what we were able to pull off.”
But Lane Kiffin didn’t try to hide how the Vols pulled it off.
“It’s the last name,” he said. “But I don’t think this could have happened anywhere else, because he never said, ‘I’m going with you wherever you go.’ It had to be a special place. It had to be a place that was warm, number one — it couldn’t be cold — and number two, it had to be a place where we could really have the ability to go get the best recruits.
“He doesn’t want to come here to be mediocre. He wants to come here to win national championships. There had to be a setup from the athletic department to make it financially secure for him as well.”
Several sources at UT declined to comment on Monte Kiffin’s financial agreement. He was the NFL’s highest-paid coordinator at about $2 million per season.
UT athletic director Mike Hamilton has maintained that he wants his coaches to have “everything they need, within reason, to compete for championships.
“Lane and I both want to have a staff where people across the country say, ‘How did Tennessee do that?’” Hamilton continued.
UT’s staff could include as many as four assistants who worked under Fulmer — offensive line coach Greg Adkins, running backs coach Stan Drayton, wide receivers coach Latrell Scott and tight ends coach Jason Michael — but several close to the program said only one or two are likely to remain.
“I’m not going to get into them individually, but as a whole they’ve been really good,” Lane Kiffin said. “They’re getting paid by the university. They have a job to do, and they’re doing a good job. At the same time, I’ve told them that if anything that comes up from anywhere else, you can go interview, and some guys have done that because they need to cover themselves.
“I don’t know what direction we’re going because I’m still evaluating them. I’m still interviewing them, and it’s been very valuable to spend almost three weeks on the road and in houses and on airplanes with them. I’ve learned way more than I could ever learn in a two-hour interview.”