KNOXVILLE - Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin's second public reprimand from the Southeastern Conference came down Monday from commissioner Mike Slive, and it warned that strike three could be much worse than another slap on the wrist.
Kiffin, who was reprimanded in February for incorrectly accusing Florida coach Urban Meyer of cheating in recruiting, was warned this time for criticizing officials after UT's 12-10 loss at Alabama.
"Coach Kiffin has violated the Southeastern Conference Code of Ethics," Slive said through a prepared statement. "SEC Bylaw 10.5.4 clearly states that coaches, players and support personnel shall refrain from all public criticism of officials."
"This is the second reprimand for Coach Kiffin in this calendar year. Coach Kiffin is on notice that any further violations of SEC policies will subject him to additional penalties, including suspension."
The SEC also reprimanded Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen on Monday for his remarks following the Bulldogs' weekend home loss to Florida.
Kiffin made multiple remarks about his displeasure with UT's eight penalties to Alabama's one in Tuscaloosa. The Vols entered the game second nationally in fewest penalties per game, while the Tide were ranked near the middle of the pack in major Division I.
Kiffin was most visibly upset about the game's final play. Alabama noseguard Terrence Cody removed his helmet after blocking a field-goal try -- before the ball was recovered and the play whistled dead.
Kiffin said Cody should have been flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct -- a mandatory penalty, any time a player removes his helmet on the field during a play -- and the Vols should have been given a second shot at the kick.
SEC officials haven't upheld or apologized for the flag, but a league spokesperson said the game would have ended anyway. Games can't end on defensive penalties, but the conference's rule interpretation suggests that games can end on change-of-possession penalties.
"It's a live-ball foul treated as a dead-ball foul," SEC spokesperson Charles Bloom said.
Kiffin didn't interpret the rule the same way.
"To me, the rule is this: If a play's still going, you can't take your helmet off," Kiffin said Sunday night. "The play's still going. The ball's still sitting there. It's live. If (tight end) Luke (Stocker) sees the ball, he can pick it up and go score a touchdown and win the game. A guy throws his helmet as the ball's still live, he throws his helmet and then two of their guys go and recover the ball. It's a 15-yard penalty, and you kick again.
"I'm sure we'll get one of those (apology) letters that really means nothing as Bobby got last week, but Florida and Alabama live on."
Kiffin also said one of the main reasons he chose to stop UT's final possession at the Alabama 27-yard line in the final minute -- rather than run one more play before trying a field goal -- was concern of another "magical" flag pushing UT backward in Tide territory.
"I wasn't going to let the refs lose the game for us there, and some magical flag appear," Kiffin said. "We put ourselves in a position to win. At that point we at nine penalties. We're the second-least penalized team in the country going into the game. They're 60th in the country, and you go down there and it's very disappointing to have nine flags thrown against you and one against them.
"That's very hard to deal with."
Another contact for Wes Rucker is www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.