February 5, 2009

Kiffin's accusations create busy day in SEC

Thursday was a busy day for Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin, who frustrated Southeastern Conference officials, Florida coach Urban Meyer and administrators at Pahokee (Fla.) High.

Kiffin apologized to Meyer on Thursday afternoon after he accused Meyer on Thursday morning of breaking NCAA rules by contacting eventual Tennessee signee Nu'Keese Richardson during an official visit to Knoxville. Kiffin made the comments at a "recruiting celebration" attended by about 1,000 Vols fans at the Knoxville Convention Center.

Richardson, a wide receiver from Pahokee High, had been committed to Florida since May but signed with Tennessee on Wednesday.

"In my enthusiasm for our recruiting class, I made some statements that were meant solely to excite those at the breakfast," Kiffin said. "I apologize to commissioner Mike Slive and the SEC, including Florida A.D. Jeremy Foley and coach Urban Meyer. My comments were not intended to offend anyone at the University of Florida."

Kiffin had told fans Meyer violated an NCAA rule by calling Richardson during his official visit to Knoxville in late January, saying, "I love the fact that Urban had to cheat and still didn't get him [Richardson]. Great job, man!"

But there is no such rule, and later in the day, Kiffin received a reprimand from Slive.

"Coach Kiffin has violated the Southeastern Conference Code of Ethics," Slive said in a statement. "SEC Bylaw 10.5.1 clearly states that coaches and administrators shall refrain from directed public criticism of other member institutions, their staffs or players.

"The phone call to which Coach Kiffin referred to in his public comments is not a violation of SEC or NCAA rules. We expect our coaches to have an understanding and knowledge of conference and NCAA rules."

In a late-morning statement, Florida never denied Meyer called Richardson during the player's Jan. 31 visit to Knoxville but pointed out that it wasn't a violation. Foley also called for a Kiffin apology.

"It is completely unfair to Urban Meyer, our coaching staff, our football program and our institution," Foley said in the statement. "The appropriate action at this time in my opinion is for Coach Kiffin to make a public apology. His comments not only slandered our coach, but he violated SEC rules by publicly criticizing another coach and institution."

At the recruiting event Thursday morning, Kiffin also implied that Tennessee might not have been able to sign Richardson had he tried to fax in his letter of intent from Pahokee High. Kiffin said Vols coaches asked Richardson and his aunts to keep Richardson's Tennessee commitment quiet and to sign and fax the LOI from somewhere other than the high school.

"They didn't go do it at the school because they knew somebody at the school was going to screw it up, the fax machine wouldn't work or they would have changed the signatures all the things that go on in Pahokee," Kiffin told the crowd in Knoxville.

On Thursday afternoon, Kiffin said his comments were meant to show he wanted to be careful when entering the stronghold of another program.

"Anytime you go into an area that's been dominated by a school, as Pahokee has by Florida, it's extremely hard," he said. "There are so many people there that would like him to go to Florida; there are so many things you have to fight and overcome for him to eventually sign with you. You just want to cover all your bases."

Pahokee coach Blaze Thompson, who has been head coach for two years and has been at the school since 1995, said he was surprised by the accusation; Thompson said cornerback Janoris Jenkins, from the class of 2008, was the first Pahokee player to sign with Florida in decades.

"Pahokee is not dominated by any program," Thompson said. "We've sent more people to Michigan than to Florida over the last couple of years. I'm not sure where this came from, but I am disappointed."

Thompson also said he never has seen a name changed on an official document or seen any coercion to get a player to sign at a particular school.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.


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