July 24, 2009

Kiffin committed to keeping attention on Vols

MORE: Miles expects LSU to contend | Spurrier left Tebow off ballot

HOOVER, Ala. – No one had a more eventful offseason than first-year Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, who rankled his SEC colleagues on seemingly a weekly basis.

He falsely accused Florida coach Urban Meyer of violating NCAA recruiting rules. He suggested officials at Pahokee (Fla.) High School might interfere with the recruitment of receiver Nu'Keese Richardson. He made comments that raised the ire of South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and Alabama's Nick Saban. He even broke a couple of secondary NCAA rules.

On Friday at SEC Media Days, Kiffin said at least some of his comments and actions were calculated to draw attention to Tennessee.

"It is so hard to recruit in this conference because you're in a part of the country where kids do not want to leave their own state," Kiffin said. "Guys grow up a fan in Alabama, Florida and grow up in Louisiana wanting to go to LSU. You have to do something unique and special to get those guys to come to your place.

"Unfortunately, in Tennessee, as much as we love our state, we do not have a lot of great high school players there. Those are the facts and those are the stats. The plan had to be that we had to create national attention immediately. I don't think people give you four- and five-year plans anymore."

According to Rivals.com rankings, there were no five-star prospects from the state of Tennessee in the 2009 recruiting class. There were only five four-star prospects.

Yet, Kiffin assembled a top-10 recruiting class, which included Kansas running back Bryce Brown, the nation's top-ranked prospect.

So, Kiffin's approach apparently worked.

But he said he regretted some of his comments and actions.

"We had to put Tennessee in the national media," Kiffin said. "Do I love every single thing I've done for my seven months? No, I haven't loved having to do it. But it needed to be done, in my opinion, for us to get where we needed to be."

Why not Berry?

Tennessee boasts one of the country's most spectacular athletes in junior safety Eric Berry.

The Volunteers, however, also have one of the most questionable quarterbacks in Jonathan Crompton, who passed for just 889 yards with five interceptions and only four touchdowns last season.

As a result, Tennessee's offense was one of the most inept in the country.

So, one way to jump-start the Tennessee offense might be to follow a growing national trend and let Berry, who played quarterback in high school, take some snaps at quarterback - perhaps in a "Wildcat" formation.

Kiffin indicated that was not an option because that move could compromise his play on defense. Berry is considered a potential top-five pick if he enters next year's NFL draft.

"You are hindering his development," Kiffin said. "During practice, you put him over there at quarterback for those plays, you have to spend a lot of time in the meeting room with him, on the practice field with him. He's not over there with Monte Kiffin working on his drops. You're going to hinder his development over there.

"It would be an interesting conversation were we going into our third year and he had our defense down pat. Then, I think it could possibly be a different conversation."

Tennessee has started a Heisman Trophy campaign for Berry, which would be enhanced if he played offense, too.

Berry, however, isn't pressing the issue.

"I believe I could [play offense], but right now I'm helping my team out the most being well and fresh on defense," he said. "I think that's where I have the big contribution to my team, is at safety. If they want to do that, then we'll talk about it."

Under pressure

First-year Auburn coach Gene Chizik previously served as defensive coordinator for three seasons under former Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville. That included Auburn's undefeated year in 2004.

Yet, Tuberville was fired after a 5-7 finish last season despite an 85-40 record in 10 seasons at Auburn.

Chizik is well aware that his new job comes with tremendous demands and expectations. He said they aren't any greater than his own.

"I don't think there's any more pressure put on Auburn football than what I put on our kids and myself," Chizik said. "We don't really pay a whole lot of attention to all of the external issues out there. We put enough pressure on ourselves to be great."

Chizik managed just a 5-19 record in two seasons as coach at Iowa State, but success in Ames is much more difficult to attain than winning at Auburn.

"I want to be best at my trade. With that comes self-imposed pressure," Chizik said. "We set a foundation for what we want to do. We're setting a foundation for long-term here at Auburn."

The long-term plan better have quick results. Auburn isn't known for its patience.

No running away

Over the years Auburn has won consistently with a powerful, productive running game, and Chizik said that's not going to change despite a move to the "spread" offense.

Chizik hired offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn from Tulsa, where he enhanced his reputation for building wide-open passing systems.

But Tulsa also averaged more than 170 yards rushing in each of Malzahn's two seasons there. Last year the Golden Hurricane averaged 268 yards in rushing offense to rank fifth in the nation.

"We want to run the football, but we also want to be able to have a very balanced passing attack, too," Chizik said. "Everybody wants to have a balanced attack. There are very few teams out there that throw it all the time or run it all the time.

"Gus has a great record of being able to be balanced and productive both running and throwing. We're on the same page. We know what we want to do. We want to create a physical brand of football … that's what Auburn was built on."

Quarterback, but no controversy

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier made it clear that sophomore Stephen Garcia is the Gamecocks' starting quarterback.

"One good thing about our situation, we don't have four guys fighting it out at quarterback," Spurrier said. "Stephen is gonna get about all the snaps."

Some snaps, however, will be taken by heralded freshman Stephon Gilmore, who is projected as a starting cornerback but will play quarterback at times to capitalize on his vast athletic ability.

"He feels like his long range college and NFL [future] is as a defensive corner, but certainly he can come in there and run that shotgun spread offense stuff that a lot of the schools are doing now," Spurrier said. "We worked him a little in the spring. We'll continue trying to get the ball in his hands. We've got to utilize him on offense a little bit here and there."

A secret ballot?

Spurrier's admission that he did not vote on the coaches' preseason All-SEC team raised questions about just how reliable those coaches polls are.

He said he's never voted on the SEC preseason poll or team.

"I haven't done that in 17 years," he said. "I usually look it over and I sign off on it. I did a poor job of looking over it this year."

That's not a real big deal, but the concern is coaches also aren't doing the voting on the coaches' poll, which is used to help determine what teams will play in the BCS national championship game.

Media predicts rematch in SEC title game

The media covering the SEC Media Days picked Florida to win the Eastern Division and Alabama to win the West for the second consecutive year.

Florida, the defending conference and national champion, was a unanimous choice to win the East. Alabama received 33 first-place votes in the West, while Ole Miss received 16 and LSU 15.

All but one voter picked Florida to win the conference championship. Ole Miss got the other vote.

The SEC championship game is Dec. 5 in Atlanta.

Florida also had a league-high 12 players selected to the media's preseason All-SEC team. The leading vote-getters were Tennessee safety Eric Berry and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and linebacker Brandon Spikes.

No players, however, were unanimous selections.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.


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