Epps: Kiffin is dividing Vols fans

Epps: Kiffin is dividing Vols fans

February 14th, 2009 by Darren Epps in Sports

The first Lane Kiffin e-mail celebrates his post-signing-day antics, his effort to alienate the other 11 Southeastern Conference schools.

"Can you believe the fire Kiffin has lit under the Big Orange Nation and the rest of the SEC?" Danny Layman writes. "Man, this guy is totally awesome and has yet to win one game. If you have any orange in you at all, you can't help but love this guy. He seems to fear no one ..."

The second one, appearing 33 minutes later in my in box, is from a Tennessee fan who sees Kiffin's bluster and frowns.

"He doesn't know SEC rules and is totally ignorant of our historic Tennessee culture of respect for our opponents, following the rules to the letter and earning our way to national prominence by remaining a cohesive, low-profile team of professionals," C.S. Parton writes.

And so you can see, based on these e-mails and the overall response to Kiffin the past week, the actions of Tennessee's new leader are splitting the fan base.

Don't misunderstand me: No one can sever Tennessee fans from their desire to see the football team succeed. Support for the team will never waver. Tennessee fans who teased their Alabama friends about the legendary (mythical?) intensity of Nick Saban are now swallowing hard and realizing their coach isn't much different, minus the wins and championships. But they love him because he wears orange.

The brazen attitude displayed by this man from the West Coast is, however, dividing Tennessee's fans. There are those who are elated to witness this anti-Phillip Fulmer, a coach not afraid to challenge the SEC's elite. They wanted change. This is change.

And then there are those Tennesseans raised on the values of remaining humble, speaking the truth and treating people with respect. Let's take a look at Kiffin's actions the last two weeks:

n Boasts that Urban Meyer cheated and still couldn't sign Nu'Keese Richardson, even though Kiffin had the rule wrong and Meyer did not commit any violations by calling Richardson on his official visit. Oops.

n Commits secondary recruiting violations, and now the NCAA will be very attentive about the actions in Knoxville.

n Publicly accuses a grandmother of steering recruit Marlon Brown away from Tennessee.

n Brags to a Sports Illustrated writer that he fired someone - in this economic climate - because a driver was 25 minutes late in picking him up from the airport. Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton says Kiffin is wrong and this is not true at all. Oops. Again. (And if Kiffin is concerned about losing 25 minutes to Saban and Meyer, as he states, then he's more worried about them than we ever imagined.)

n Mentions Kansas running back Bryce Brown, considered the No. 1 prospect in the nation, by name and calls him "a great player" during a radio interview Friday morning. NCAA rules prohibit any such sort of comment before a player is signed, and UT had to self-report this as secondary violation No. 3 in the Kiffin Era.

It's easy to see why some Tennessee fans relish Kiffin's approach. He's bold. He's daring. He's cocky.

But here's my counter argument, and what bothers the other faction of UT fans: Irritating other coaches and making wild public comments equals exactly zero wins. It may seem cool and daring, but it does not change the win column. He's just inciting other league coaches to work harder.

And it's not like Meyer is sitting in his Florida office, shaking in his gatorskin boots and mumbling, "Ki-Ki-Ki-Ki-Ki-Kiffin!" Actually, he probably read about Kiffin's secondary NCAA violations and laughed really hard. (Laughed so hard he cried, of course.)

For the impartial observer, of course, the arrival of Kiffin is absolutely fantastic. There is no shortage of material. Tennessee football is beyond interesting. Kiffin's actions are actually making some people believe that Al Davis was the sane one after all. If you set the over/under for Kiffin's tenure at four years with Tennessee, a lot of people would take the under.

Kiffin is setting himself up to act more smug than ever, to slam his success in the faces of other SEC programs and create a stir that will land him a host of elite recruits if Tennessee wins football games. He's also setting himself up, if Tennessee fails, to look like a complete buffoon. That's the chance he's taking.