I think being new, coming into the premier collegiate sports league in the country ... (Lane Kiffin) chose a path that he believes let him make some progress. But he understands the deeper issues.
-- Dr. Jan Simek
University of Tennessee interim president Jan Simek said Monday he had talked to Lane Kiffin about the first-year head football coach's highly publicized preseason actions, including comments about other coaches and programs in the Southeastern Conference.
"Here was my message, and I think that subsequent events would suggest he has heard the message," Dr. Simek said during an editorial board with the Times Free Press. "What I talked to him about was the fact that the University of Tennessee has a prideful tradition that is very deep. That in point of fact while athletics is clearly an important part of that tradition, academics is central to what we do. Our reputation -- the perception people have of the institution -- is of that whole, and we value fairly highly the progress we have made.
"Lane comes from the Pac-10, which in many respects is the epitome of great academics and great athletics, as this past weekend showed on several different levels, including to us. When we lost to UCLA, we lost to a better academic institution, too."
Kiffin was introduced Dec. 1 as the successor to former Vols coach Phillip Fulmer. Kiffin, the youngest coach in major college football, has made waves during his short time in Knoxville. Kiffin, who had to get clearance under UT nepotism rules when he hired his father Monte to be the defensive coordinator, was the subject of a Feb. 16 Sports Illustrated story that included statements about personnel and other internal moves within the UT football offices.
Simek, who watched UCLA upset the Vols 19-15 in Neyland Stadium on Saturday, believes Kiffin received the message from their meeting, which Simek said happened "early on" during Kiffin's time in Knoxville.
"(Lane) understands that. I think being new, coming into the premier collegiate sports league in the country, coming out of some difficult times from that point of view, he had a tough row to hoe at the beginning, and he chose a path that he believes let him make some progress," Simek said Monday. "But he understands the deeper issues. Since our conversations he has been exactly the kind of coach we want to have."
Kiffin made positive news during the recruiting process, landing a nationally ranked class of recruiting, including two of the top running backs -- David Oku and top-ranked Bryce Brown -- after national signing day. Kiffin mentioned Brown's name on a radio broadcast during the recruiting process, committing a secondary NCAA violation in the process.
On the morning after signing day, Kiffin violated SEC rules by accusing Florida coach Urban Meyer of violating recruiting rules and was forced to apologize to the Gators coach and Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley.
"We've had some issues in the past, but we're not all about that," said Meyer, who will direct the top-ranked Gators against UT on Saturday in Gainesville, Fla.
Kiffin also has made public comments in reference to Alabama coach Nick Saban and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier. Spurrier confronted Kiffin in May outside an elevator during the annual SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla.
The moves created a swirl of emotion among the SEC rivals' fan bases and drew the ire of league commissioner Mike Slive, who emphatically directed each football coach and athletic directors at the league's 12 schools to refrain from verbal sparring at the spring meetings.
Like Simek, Slive thought his message was clear.
"I believe they got my message," Slive told The Associated Press after the spring meetings.