In six months on the job with the University of Tennessee, football coach Lane Kiffin is headed for at least his fifth NCAA violation.
After talking with alleged recruits in front of ESPN’s cameras for a feature of “Outside the Lines” that was shown over the weekend, Kiffin almost has completed the news-media pentathlon. He’s encountered NCAA speed bumps on television, radio, Twitter and the Internet.
UT spokesperson Tiffany Carpenter said the university is looking into this weekend’s mis-Kiffin, but it appears to be the most obvious — and possibly most blatant — of the bunch. According to NCAA rules, “A member institution shall not permit a media entity to be present during any recruiting contact made by an institution’s coaching staff member.”
In answer to his critics, Kiffin more times than not shrugs his shoulders — his smirk and his indifference speaking volumes.
His boss, Volunteers athletic director Mike Hamilton, dismisses the growing file of secondary violations by saying it’s not an unusually high number for major college programs.
In fact, Kiffin routinely says a lot of his antics — primarily the feather-ruffling of rival coaches around the SEC that makes opposing fans cringe and Vols supporters grin — are done intentionally to raise UT’s profile around the country and in the eyes of prospective recruits.
One of his previous NCAA mistakes was mentioning then-five-star recruit and now Vols signee Bryce Brown by name, violating one of the most basic and most recognized NCAA rules. Even sportswriters know that one, never mind college coaches who claim to have scored a 39 out of 40 on the NCAA rules test, as Kiffin did. But if Brown turns into the next Adrian Peterson or Darren McFadden, it will viewed as a coup rather than culpa.
In truth, this weekend’s hiccup more than likely will be reviewed by UT and excused by the NCAA like almost always is done with secondary violations that are self-reported by college football’s power programs.
Sure, everyone makes mistakes, but few make them this quickly and this cavalierly.
Five self-reported violations in six months — including a few weeks of NCAA mandated dead-period time? Sure, if it leads to five five-star prospects like Brown picking the Vols, the Orange Army will say it was well worth a slap on the wrist to be able to punch people in the mouth.
But tread carefully, young Coach Kiffin. Whether from confidence or arrogance or even ignorance, spitting into the wind can be dodged only for a fixed amount of time.
How much longer will the NCAA allow minor violations to stack up — especially when Kiffin’s primary deflector shield has been to say it’s part of the master plan for getting people talking about the Vols again. Yes, Kiffin and Co. were on the front page of the USA Today sports section within the last month — not bad for a team coming off a five-win, bowlless season. But let the NCAA transgressions continue to mount — never mind the flaunting and posturing — and the NCAA penalties could get the Vols on the front page for the wrong reasons.
It has become a common debate whether Kiffin is simply immature or simply making a push to reshape the Vols.
It’s way too early to tell whether these are a series of minor mistakes or the sour steps of a major mistake-filled master plan. And in the end, five or six or a dozen secondary violations will not shape Kiffin’s place in Vols history.
No, regardless of the color of your car flag or whether you want the Lane Train to roll or crash, everyone agrees on one fact about the Vols new coach. His fate — like that of every other college football coach — will be determined on Saturdays in the fall.
If five secondary violations become five five-star recruits, then Vols fans will embrace Kiffin’s approach like no other.
If five five-star recruits become a few five-win seasons, well, the NCAA and Urban Meyer and the rest of the SEC won’t have to stomach Kiffin very long.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...