DESTIN, Fla. — For months, Lane Kiffin has made a point of speaking his mind. At the SEC’s meetings at the Sandestin Hilton on Tuesday, his fellow coaches finally got their chance to respond.
Of course, no one expected many fireworks — commissioner Mike Slive saw to that — but a healthy dose of tension promised to fill the meeting rooms where the SEC’s 12 football coaches met.
For his part, Kiffin wasn’t worried, saying he figured his counterparts would take a professional approach to the meetings, but the showdown between the first-year Tennessee coach and the rest of the SEC — Florida’s Urban Meyer in particular — was the day’s topic.
“Each of us have a different job for a different university, a different athletic director and a different team,” Kiffin said. “I wouldn’t think there’d be any hard feelings for anybody. I think at the end of the day, everybody understands we all have specific jobs for our university.”
That was the only defense Kiffin raised Tuesday. Since being hired, Kiffin has critiqued his fellow coaches often, with a slight directed at Meyer for supposed cheating on the recruiting trail topping his list of public spats. The cheating charges were soon proven baseless and Kiffin apologized at the time, a gesture he said would likely be the last directed at Meyer. Kiffin said he doesn’t have any relationship with the Florida coach and sees no reason to initiate one, but did joke with reporters that he had requested the two get adjoining rooms at the hotel.
For his part, Slive said he hoped to tone down the rhetoric as the start of fall practices draws closer. While the chirping among coaches has been a hot commodity among media, Slive said his coaches would be well served by toning things down – a message he planned to deliver personally.
“We’ll have some good conversations and talk about the principles that they’ve already adopted and that there are ways of communicating,” Slive said. “We’ll talk about what’s in the best interests of the league long term.”
Meyer seemed to follow that advice, and when the two coaches finally met face to face, there weren’t any fireworks or fisticuffs. The whole thing was pretty anticlimactic — professional, but hardly a meeting of the minds.
“It was a hello, how are you, and we moved on,” Meyer said. “It’s all good.”
While Meyer wasn’t exactly interested in making friends, Georgia’s Mark Richt was a bit more deferential to his fellow coaches and said things weren’t really as bad as they were made out to be in the press.
“I was kind of curious to see how it would go, but it’s been nothing but professional,” Richt said. “There’s a camaraderie in there that I didn’t expect. To me, it’s just a bunch of guys doing a very difficult job. It could get worse than it is, but I think it’s really pretty civil.”
Kiffin said he would remain professional, too, adding that he hasn’t always enjoyed being the bad guy. But when it comes to garnering attention, it was something his school needed, and he was pretty darned good at it.
“Do I love everything I had to do to get us to this point? No. But my job is not to love everything I do,” he said. “My job is to do the best thing for our university and for our people.”