KNOXVILLE — Back when he was throwing his visor on the Florida sideline, Steve Spurrier got the goat of Tennessee football fans when he quipped that you can’t spell “Citrus” without “UT.”
These days, first-year Volunteers coach Lane Kiffin has replaced Spurrier as the mouth of the Southeastern Conference coaches — earning his second reprimand from league commissioner Mike Slive as a result.
So, what does Kiffin think about the history of barbs thrown Rocky Top’s way by the Ol’ Ball Coach?
“Yeah I’ve heard them. I think it’s funny,” Kiffin said Tuesday during his weekly news conference. “I guess we’re not supposed to do those anymore but … I almost made it this whole conference without saying anything.
“I think he’s hilarious,” Kiffin added of Spurrier. “I think he always has been. I think the way that he acts is great for football and it’s great for the league.”
There’s a schism in opinion over whether Kiffin’s brash talk has been good for the SEC. Vols fans, for the most part, love it. The players have responded to it. Slive is definitely not amused, reprimanding Kiffin on Monday for the second time this year after the UT coach criticized the officiating in Saturday’s 13-12 loss to Alabama.
“I really don’t want to get into it,” Kiffin said of the letter of reprimand. “Whatever. I’m getting ready for South Carolina.”
The Vols (3-4, 1-3) host the No. 21-ranked Gamecocks (6-2, 3-2) this Saturday night at Neyland Stadium. Kiffin summarized his recollections watching Spurrier’s Florida teams as a youngster, and noted parallels.
“To me when you watched his teams play and the intensity and the swagger and the way that they walked, I think they represented him because he was so confident in the way he came across and how much his players believed in him. I think it was obvious,” Kiffin said. “Here he’s doing it again. As soon as people want to start counting him out, he’s back in the top 25. He’s had an awesome career and he’s still doing it.”
Kiffin sees similar swagger developing for his team. He sees their confidence growing. And, according to the coach, comments like the ones that got him in hot water with the league office build confidence in his players.
“When they see me saying things like that, they know I have confidence in them that we can go down and play against anybody,” Kiffin said. “They know that this staff isn’t worried about who we play or where we’re playing. They believe that we can put together a plan that we can go beat anybody. I think that’s what your goal is to get your players to believe that they can beat anybody. And our guys do right now.”
EXTRA POINTS: Despite losing twice as many games as South Carolina, Tennessee is favored by 5½ to 6½ points. … Kiffin said that placekicker Daniel Lincoln is “not ready to kick yet.” Lincoln played with a tight quad against Alabama, and had two field goals blocked including the potential game-winner on the final play. Punter Chad Cunningham is Lincoln’s backup at kicker. … The Vols have altered their practice schedule, now practicing on Sundays and taking Mondays off. They will stick with the revised schedule for the remainder of the season.