KNOXVILLE -- Lane Kiffin conceded Saturday afternoon that his University of Tennessee football program has become a target for those questioning the Volunteers' recruiting tactics.
"I think that's good," UT's first-year coach said.
Kiffin and men's athletic director Mike Hamilton maintained that the football program hasn't knowingly violated any NCAA or Southeastern Conference recruiting rules, and Kiffin added sizzle to his latest response to outside interest in the Vols' recruiting practices.
"I used to say things about Florida, and I'd say, 'I'd like that if I was them, because they're at the top, and people are shooting for them,'" Kiffin said. "And I think when it comes to recruiting, we're at the highest level, and I think that people really want to know what we're doing. They want to know how are we able to get interest from so many great players, and sign so many great players, so I think you have a lot of people coming at us.
"You know, 'If you can't beat them, figure out a way to figure out if they're doing something wrong.'"
SEC officials in November sent Tennessee a notice with questions regarding an October recruiting trip to St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. That news was initially reported late Friday night by the New York Times, which days earlier also broke news that the NCAA was reviewing a trip to a South Carolina high school football game by two female members of Orange Pride, UT's organization of student ambassadors.
UT recruiting intern Steve Rubio's involvement in the Fort Lauderdale trip was the SEC's concern, according to Hamilton and Kiffin. Rubio isn't one of the Vols' designated off-campus recruiters, so any meetings with prospects away from Knoxville would constitute a minor violation.
Kiffin said Rubio, who graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas and helped the football team as a volunteer assistant coach, walked into the school to catch up with "old friends" while the football team practiced outside.
"He travels to some different areas, but he helps me down there (in Florida) because of his knowledge of directions, and getting us in and out of places," Kiffin said. "Last year I took someone different when he wasn't here, and now I take him with me. While I'm in the school, he can't be on the phone, and recruiting is so imperative with coaches and with kids that he'll have the necessities ready, and all the call back numbers ready when I get back in the car and we travel to the next place.
"I know that he went in there and saw some of his old teachers and saw some of his coaches. I don't know that he did (recruit) at all. I never want to say never, but I will pretty much say that he did not while I was with him. And I don't think he could have, because they were practicing during the time that he went inside, anyway."
Hamilton said UT took the situation, like all recruiting ethics concerns, "very seriously." But he added that the school's internal review didn't uncover any problems, and that he hadn't seen anything worthy of reporting to the NCAA.
Kiffin said he "assumed" that another SEC program turned in the potential violation, since the league office -- rather than the NCAA -- contacted UT about the situation.
Several Vols said they wouldn't let outside issues distract their preparation for the Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A Bowl against Virginia Tech. Kiffin agreed, noting that he didn't expect any drop-off and hasn't seen any.
"I promise you these guys haven't spent one second thinking about that," Kiffin said. "I don't even know if they know who Steve Rubio is. He works in a closet up here, basically, for us, so I can't imagine that they've spent one second thinking about that.
"That has nothing to do with our team."
Kiffin said the team practiced "much better" Saturday than it did Friday. The starters and primary backups were put through extended full contact work in the final period. The first-team offense finished with an 18-play drive, and the second unit went even longer with 28 plays. Neither drive featured a timeout or break.
"There was a good energy about them today, a lot of spirit," Kiffin said. "After watching yesterday's film, it was just OK, so we really challenged them, really motivated them to come out and have a great practice. We put them through a really hard practice ... and they really responded."
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