It’s not fair to put the weight of the world on the shoulders of a bunch of kids, but that’s exactly what happens every February when a group of high school seniors are asked to decide where they are going to play college football.
For all the hoopla around National Signing Day and the great pastime it has become for so many of us, don’t forget that this multi-million-dollar industry called football recruiting is still only about a game. At least on the surface.
At the same time, recruiting is the life-blood of programs like the University of Florida, with more a $100-million dollar annual budget for athletics. The outcome of it ultimately determines what coaches get hired and fired and how much money alumni donate to the schools. A whole cottage industry has sprung up around it.
Let’s not be hypocritical here — Gator Country profits from National Signing Day as well. Recruiting is one of the mainstays of our website and NSD is perhaps the highest traffic day of the year. At one point over a period Wednesday there were something like 17,000 people online here.
So the declarations of these young men and the coaches who chose to recruit them is of high interest and impacts a bankroll worth hundreds of millions in college football.
In some cases these athletes become pawns, paraded before the boosters like beef-on-the-hoof prizes from a program purported to be on the rise. In the case of Lane Kiffin and Tennessee, who ordained Nu’Keese Richardson “the next Percy Harvin,” they are presented as outright poster boys as evidence of a new day. Kiffin’s ploy was a desperate attempt to reverse the sagging fortunes of Tennessee football.
So this is a lot more than just a bunch of kids choosing up sides in the sandlots. It is a full-blown media blast for these young athletes, their friends, family and hangers-on, all of whom become bit players in the pull-the-caps-out-of-the-hat, made-for-TV videos. It is to them what the Oscars and Emmys are to actors and media folks.
I can’t be too hard on the kids, who work and train most of their young lives for a chance to have their moment before the klieg lights and cameras. On the other hand, if I were a TV producer, I’d institute a three-hat rule so as not to prolong the overkill.
Meanwhile, the day after NSD was spiced up a bit with the news out of Knoxville that Tennessee’s new coach thought he was an expert on the NCAA rules. I don’t care of Kiffin stayed at Holiday Inn last night or if he played the role SEC Commissioner on TV — he’s no expert on the game of college football or the rules that govern it.
On the other hand, why would he be? He coached at Southern Cal during the recruiting fiasco of Reggie Bush and then worked for the biggest rules breaker in all of football, Al Davis. But even Oakland Al figured out that Kiffin was all hat and no cattle when he fired the son of Tampa Bay’s distinguished defensive coordinator.
Fast-Lane Kiffin got a little too giddy at his Rocky Top celebration, labeling Meyer a “cheater” and calling him out like a greenhorn gunfighter challenging Billy The Kid.
“I’m going to turn Florida in right now in front of you,” Kiffin bragged to the crowd. Instead, Fast-Lane Kiffin wound up writing his own speeding ticket for flapping his gums too fast.
Accusing Urban cheater because he thought phoning Pahokee’s Richardson on a visit to Knoxville was an NCAA violation was a ghastly mistake. It left Kiffin with egg on his face, a blast from Florida AD Jeremy Foley and a slap on the wrist from the SEC.
Kiffin’s antics have put Richardson square in the crosshairs of the Florida-Tennessee rivalry, which turns out to be a little more than what the former quarterback turned-receiver bargained for when he de-committed to Florida. If Richardson thinks he’s feeling heat now for his decision, just wait until the next four years of the Nuke Nu’Keese Bowl.
Some misguided members of the national media lauded Kiffin for standing up to “the bully.” I chuckled when I heard Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon of ESPN debating the wisdom of Kiffin’s ploy — and both supporting his sassy, brassy move. Then wrongly lauding Kiffin for crowing about landing Nu’Keese, “the next Percy Harvin.”
Huh? Says who?
In particular, this statement by Kiffin will come back to haunt him: “I love the fact that Urban had to cheat and still didn’t get him.”
Fast-Lane Kiffin needs to be more like his daddy and less like popoff Joan Rivers.
In fact, Monte needs to teach his kid about keeping his mouth shut and letting his actions speak louder than his words.
Calling out of Meyer was wrong on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin.
First, his accusation that coaches can’t call recruits while they are visiting on other college campuses is just plain erroneous, not to mention idiotic.
Secondly, the audacity to attack Meyer and then revel in “stealing” two recruits from the BCS Champions is juvenile, if not outright poor taste. Let him crow about taking Richardson and Marsalis Teague, fine — but before he starts talking smack, he should do something first. Let’s see how these two guys figure in the Florida-Tennessee rivalry — if we can still call it that. After all, the Vols have never beaten Meyer.
Actually, Kiffin has never beaten anyone in the SEC or in college football for that matter.
Maybe Kiffin should have called Mark Richt before he challenged the best football coach in America to a Duel in the Sun.
In fact, “Duel in the Sun” might just be a good name for the Sept. 19 date that the Vols have in “The Swamp.”
I’d have loved to be have been a fly on the wall when Urban received this news in Ohio about Fast-Lane Kiffin. I can just picture the glint his eye, the clenched jaw and the stoic look on Meyer’s face.
Just apologizing isn’t going to cut it for Kiffin, because the worst is yet to come when the Vols set foot on Florida Field this fall. And you know what they say about payback.
Now roll the scene forward to Sept. 19. Johnny Brantley may see limited action that day, because Tim Tebow will still be in the game with five minutes to play, Florida leading by three or four touchdowns.
When he’s not throwing the ball deep, No. 15 will be knocking linebackers over like bowling pins. And Urban Meyer will have saved all three of his timeouts for a show-and-tell ending.
That day you can bet the loquacious Tennessee coach will have full view of the new scoreboards at Florida Field in the closing minutes. Just another way Urban will welcome loudmouth Fast-Lane Kiffin to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Quick Jump Start
1. You know linebacker Jelani Jenkins has to be a special incoming freshman for Meyer to predict of him that he “should be a captain” someday.
2. Quarterback Coach Scot Loeffler said after recruiting Tim Tebow to Michigan but failing to land him, he promised “our paths will cross again someday” — never having any idea it would be at Florida.
3. New tight ends coach Brian White says the difference in the program at Florida vs. other places he has coached (Washington, Syracuse, Wisconsin) is that “athletes walking around with a lot more confidence — and smiles on their faces.”
4. Andre Debose may not like being referred to as “the next Percy Harvin” – he’s the real “next” Percy — but he most likely will be wearing No. 1.
5. I can’t get this out of my head: Last fall when our Gator Country team was walking from our parking spot toward the Neyland Stadium press box, we were stopped by numerous Vols fans who saw the logo on our shirts and who said: “We want to get an Urban Meyer at Tennessee!” Sorry.
And good morning all you ecstatic Vol fans. You can be the judge soon of how your boy Fast-Lane Kiffin measures up to Florida’s two-time national champion coach. I’m pretty sure you failed to hire “the next Urban Meyer.”