Staff Photo by Patrick Smith Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin talks to an official during the first half of his team's game against Georgia at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. Tennessee won 45-19.
KNOXVILLE -- Lane Kiffin has drawn Steve Spurrier's ire at least once, and possibly more than that, but Kiffin maintained Tuesday that any animosity between the two Southeastern Conference football coaches is a one-way street.
In fact, UT's Kiffin said his appreciation for Spurrier dates back nearly two decades, to when the South Carolina coach was running roughshod over the Southeastern Conference at Florida and enjoying every second of it.
"I've always had an unbelievable respect for what he's done," Kiffin said. "When I was growing up, he was probably the one guy I looked at. To me, when you watched his teams play, and the intensity and the swagger and the way that they walked, I think they represented him. He was so confident in the way he came across. And how much his players believed in him, I think it was obvious.
"And here he's doing it again (at South Carolina). As soon as people wanted to start counting him out, he's back in the Top 25. He's had an awesome career, and he's still doing it."
Kiffin admitted to laughing at some of the South Carolina coach's legendary verbal digs at the Volunteers.
"I think he's hilarious. I think he always has been," Kiffin said. "I think the way that he acts is great for football and it's great for the league."
SEC commissioner Mike Slive has not let Kiffin's words slide, as former league boss Roy Kramer did with Spurrier in his Florida heyday.
Kiffin received his second reprimand from Slive this week, following his comments about perceived officiating problems in UT's 12-10 loss at then-No. 1 Alabama. The first reprimand came in February, after Kiffin told a group of fans at a recruiting celebration that Florida coach Urban Meyer "cheated" in recruiting.
Mere seconds after opining on Spurrier's old jokes, Kiffin grinned and added, "But I guess we're not supposed to do those anymore.
"I almost made it this whole conference without saying anything," Kiffin added.
Kiffin refused to comment specifically on the reprimand he received Monday from the SEC. That seemed wise, considering Slive has said the coach's next punishment could come with a suspension.
"I really don't want to get into it," Kiffin said. "You know ... whatever. I'm getting ready for South Carolina."
Kiffin took several more questions on the topic, and he only slightly budged.
Asked if Slive's most recent actions would cause him to pause before commenting from this point, Kiffin sat silently for a few seconds before adding, "Like this pause right here?
"Look, I'm not going to get into it," he continued. "I'm excited about this matchup versus South Carolina. As hard as it is for me to do, I'm not going to do that ... but I'd love to."
Spurrier generally has been tamer since taking over the Gamecocks, but he's had his moments -- including an offseason spat with Kiffin. Shortly after Kiffin took the UT job, Spurrier asked reporters whether the new coach had taken the mandatory NCAA recruiting test before contacting prospects.
"If Steve's concerned about my test, I got a 39 out of 40," Kiffin laughingly responded to the questions.
But Spurrier was in no laughing mood at the annual SEC May meetings in Florida, when Kiffin commented on never receiving an apology from Spurrier on the matter -- unlike the one Kiffin was forced to offer to Meyer.
"I didn't accuse you of cheating," Spurrier reportedly told Kiffin in front of several reporters at the meeting. "What I said was, 'Was it permissible to call recruits before you were announced head coach and had taken the test?' Now, you took the test online, and I didn't even know you could do that. I thought you had to take the test on campus ... and then start calling (recruits)."
Spurrier kept talking to Kiffin as the two -- along with several other SEC coaches -- stepped onto an elevator.
Kiffin also made noise in South Carolina in March, when a story published by ESPN alleged outlandish comments the coach made to Gamecocks star wide receiver signee Alshon Jeffery, who had committed to Southern California before privately switching to Tennessee but eventually signed with his home-state school.
Jeffery and his coach said Kiffin, upon hearing that the player would sign with South Carolina, told him he'd spend the rest of his life pumping gas if he went with the Gamecocks.
Kiffin has adamantly stated several times that he never made those comments, and Tuesday he praised the young wideout.
"I knew he was going to be a great player," Kiffin said. "That's why we put so much time into recruiting him, getting him to switch from being committed to Southern Cal at the time and at one point thought we had him. He had told us he was coming at one point, and we just lost him in the end.
"He'd be playing a ton for us if he was here."
Jeffery isn't a Vol, though. Ironically, he chose to play for the polarizing coach who showed a young Kiffin what kind of a swagger a winning team needed.
"It's his personality, and it's how he walks on the sideline," Kiffin said. "It's how those great offenses and all those great receivers and quarterbacks, they had a confidence about them. You knew no matter what the score was when you watched those Florida games back in the day that they weren't out of it. They were going to compete, and they were going to fight, and they were going to play for their coach. I thought it was always obvious when you watched them that his players had great confidence. They walked right. They had that look when they came on the field.
"You know that they were coming to win. And they still do that."
Senior defensive linemen Wes Brown said Kiffin has instilled the same attitude at UT.
"Our coach is very confident," Brown said. "He has confident teams like Spurrier has. Coach Kiffin is confident in us, which is making us feel better about ourselves and able to perform like we are."
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