This year’s Georgia

Maybe he thought it would make him look macho and tough to Tennessee fans still smarting from a 5-7 season that included a home loss to that noted powerhouse Wyoming and a fourth quarter comeback win over the feared Northern Illinois Huskies of the Mid-American Conference. Maybe he thought excited Vol fans would jump out of their chairs and hurl their almost-full spit cups at the wall in defiance of that mean old Urban Meyer, who has had the audacity to own Tennessee on the football field the last four years.

Whatever he was thinking — and it’s truly debatable if he actually was thinking at this point — Lane Kiffin’s latest blunder is an all-out declaration of war and this is a war he cannot and will not win.

No way. No how.

Here is Lane Kiffin’s declaration of war on the University of Florida and Coach Urban Meyer. Thursday morning while addressing a crowd of Vol fans about the new recruiting class Thursday morning at the Knoxville Convention Center, Kiffin said, “I’m gonna turn Florida in right here in front of you. While Nu’Keese (Richardson) was on campus, his phone kept ringing. One of the coaches says, ‘who’s that?’ And he said, Urban Meyer. I love the fact that Urban had to cheat and still didn’t get him.”

Now Lane Kiffin was trying to look like a tough guy to his fan base when he made that statement but there are ways to fire up the faithful without resorting to outright slandering another coach. When you make a bold accusing statement like that, it’s always a good thing to do a little research first. Helps to avoid a serious blunder if you do because it’s not a good thing to go accusing another coach of outright cheating if you (a) don’t know the rules yourself and (b) said coach didn’t actually cheat.

A simple call to the compliance people at Tennessee — assuming, of course, that department is manned by competent people who actually know and follow the rules — and Lane Kiffin could have avoided what might turn out to be the biggest blunder of his career. You see, when it comes to NCAA rules, Lane Kiffin is the one that doesn’t have a clue.

Urban Meyer didn’t cheat and there was no reason to accuse him of cheating unless you’re just plain dumb — and Lane Kiffin, for all we know, might be — or simply a loud mouth attention whore that speaks first and asks questions later.

We don’t know for sure how Urban Meyer reacted to this statement. He’s up in Ohio with his dad Bud, who has been battling cancer. But, we do know what Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley thinks about it.

In a public statement Thursday afternoon, Foley stated: “There was no rule violation and we have confirmed this with the Southeastern Conference. It is obvious that Coach Kiffin doesn’t know that there is not a rule precluding phone contact with a prospect during an official visit on another campus during a contact period. His allegations are inappropriate, out of line and, most importantly, totally false. It is completely unfair to Urban Meyer, our coaching staff, our football program and our institution. 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.”

Now, if you know Jeremy Foley, you know that he wouldn’t be defending Urban Meyer publicly if Meyer had indeed violated the rules. For the last 17 years Foley has run the tightest ship in the country when it comes to following NCAA rules and we’re not just talking football here, but ALL SPORTS. The University of Florida has become a model of NCAA compliance under Foley’s guidance and with the able assistance of Jamie McCloskey, Florida’s director of compliance who is considered the very best in the business.

Foley doesn’t like and doesn’t tolerate cheaters. Nor does he tolerate loud mouth buffoons that call his coaches cheaters.

When Stanford (now California) basketball coach Mike Montgomery accused Billy Donovan of cheating a few years back, Foley issued the same type of sharp, immediate response. Montgomery and Stanford backed down immediately.

Foley wasn’t the only one chapped about Kiffin. Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive issued this statement: “Coach Kiffin has violated the Southeastern Conference Code of Ethics. 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.”

Of course, that has been followed up by the obligatory statement of apology from Kiffin: “At an energetic breakfast with some of our donors and alumni I made a statement that was solely meant to excite the crowd. If I offended anyone at the University of Florida, including Mr. Foley and Urban Meyer, I sincerely apologize. That was not my intention.”

Sincere? Barf! Not his intention to offend? Oh please. Who does he think he’s fooling? Does he think the whole world will buy his con man act like they have in Tennessee? Of course it was his intention to offend. He thinks of himself as the new SEC bully and he’s such an arrogant newbie that it never once occurred to him that folks in the SEC actually punch back.

Kiffin has spent the last two months running off at the mouth, taking his shots at Steve Spurrier, Les Miles, Nick Saban and now Urban Meyer. This excites the Vol faithful who have allowed themselves to be conned into thinking Lane Kiffin is a boy genius. Lane used that same argument to con Al Davis into hiring him as coach of the Oakland Raiders and by year two Al was kicking himself in the butt for being that dumb. Davis fired Kiffin four games into the 2008 season and refused to pay severance.

Reality is Tennessee has hired a wet behind the ears novice that has yet to prove he can coach a lick to replace the second winningest coach in school history, the only coach other than General Robert Neyland to win a national championship. Phil Fulmer may not look like he belongs on a GQ cover and maybe his wife isn’t drop dead gorgeous, but he has 147 wins that prove he can coach and he shares something in common with Spurrier, Miles, Saban and Meyer in that he won a national championship.

Lane Kiffin hasn’t won anything and now he’s made four enemies in the SEC, which goes to prove he’s not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. The last thing you want to do is have guys like Spurrier, Miles, Saban and Meyer circling the Tennessee game on the calendar but you can bet the ranch that those four coaches are drooling at the thought of playing the Vols again.

Now I’m never going to be mistaken for one of Urban Meyer’s close confidants but in four-plus years of writing about him, I’ve built a healthy enough relationship that I can tell you he is a paybacks are hell kind of guy. You do remember what happened to Mark Richt and the Georgia Bulldogs don’t you? And that was over Richt sending his team out to storm the field after a touchdown.

Mark Richt never called Urban a cheater. Lane Kiffin did and that was akin to a declaration of war on Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators. This is a war that Lane Kiffin can’t and won’t win.

Think of it like this. September 19 is this year’s Georgia. Circle it on your calendar. It’s going to be righteous.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.