Wiedmer: Kiffin says UT talk 'little bit different'

Wiedmer: Kiffin says UT talk 'little bit different'

June 12th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Awkward.

That's the word our Tennessee Volunteers beat reporter Patrick Brown used to describe the start of the UT athletic department's Saturday hearing before the NCAA Committee on Infractions in Indianapolis.

And that was just the football portion, which included former UT coach Lane Kiffin testifying about his 4G-fast Big Orange career in front of his current Southern Cal athletic director, Pat Haden.

(By the way, still waiting to see if the Kiffins intend to change youngest son Knox's name to Troy, Malibu or Hollywood now that he's living in the City of Angels. But we digress.)

At least Kiffin reportedly kept his shirt tucked in (unlike his Big Orange game-day attire), wasn't overheard falsely accusing former Florida coach Urban Meyer of any recruiting violations and didn't openly challenge Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive, who also was present.

No wonder Lane the Louse's 90-second media briefing included the words, "It was a little bit different."

All of this is a little bit different. The Vols are usually the guys smugly chuckling over everybody else's compliance issues. During the Linda Benzel-Myers academic controversy at the close of the 1990s, a Big Orange athletic official pulled me aside one day to scold me for a column I'd written.

A devilish grin crossing his face, he asked, "Mark, do you know what the key to winning in big-time athletics is?" Shaking my head in the negative, he replied, his grin widening, "It's knowing which professors like athletes."

And for roughly 40 years, through questions concerning Bernard King's high school transcript, through a Sport magazine article charging that UT players were paid, to the Benzel-Myers mess and a mini-scandal involving former quarterback Tee Martin, the NCAA clearly liked the Vols.

But it didn't seem that way Saturday. The committee spent almost four hours on football discussing two violations. Basketball ran even longer, despite fired coach Bruce Pearl showing up in his trademark orange suspenders, ever the carnival barker, even if his circus is no longer in town.

But at least he didn't bare his chest. The Big Orange Nation can only hope he was willing to honestly bare his soul. Given his previous lies to the NCAA, believing anything Pearl says may be difficult.

Then again, Bruce All-measly is no longer fighting to save his UT job. He's now battling to be allowed to hold any job. The chances of Pearl coaching anywhere the next two years are about as good as those of Newt Gingrich winning the Republican nomination for President.

It's no wonder that UT named women's athletic director Joan Cronan the interim AD for the men while a permanent successor for Mike Hamilton is found. Or that the school has decided to merge the two departments. The men can only hope to be as successful both on and off the court as the Lady Vols. After all, the last time Cronan visited Indianapolis was for a women's basketball Final Four.

Sitting in this hearings must surely have caused her to blush, especially as Kiffin attempted to explain away the seedy Hostess-gate with some lame explanation along the lines of, "Dudes, we didn't tell them to do anything but wear bulky UT sweatshirts, sing 'Rocky Top' until their lungs gave out and encourage these kids to be all alone in bed before midnight. If anything else happened, it must have been something the recruits learned on their visits to Florida."

Of course, all of this is speculation because reporters aren't allowed in these hearings, despite these events almost always involving public universities largely funded by tax dollars.

Then again, the NCAA is a private, voluntary organization, which seems to protect it from sunshine laws.

That doesn't mean the guilty are always protected.

So even though we can't tell you for certain what was asked or answered, we can speculate with some degree of common sense that as Kiffin responded to questions about his UT past, his current boss at USC must have been silently wondering, "What did Mike Hamilton ever see in this guy, and how quickly can I get rid of him?"

Perhaps Kiffin should swiftly consider changing Knox's name to Haden.