Getting Defensive

HOOVER, Ala. — Sometimes, Lane Kiffin can get behind a microphone and entertain a crowd. Other times, his words get him into trouble.

Tennessee's controversial new coach made his much anticipated debut at Southeastern Conference Media Days on Friday morning.

And given a stage and a large audience, Kiffin spent much of his time inside the Wynfrey Hotel defending his past comments that were seen as a hit in Knoxville, but not so much in other parts of the South.

"Like I said before, I've not loved everything I've done, not loved everything I've had to do," Kiffin said. "But it needed to be done, in my opinion, to be able to put us where we are today and for the future down the road."

Kiffin was unapologetic.

As the final coach to speak during the SEC Media Days, he rushed through his words, sounding like he had just chugged a six-pack of Red Bull. All the while, he stood behind most of his controversial remarks over the past few months.

Kiffin said he has already apologized to Florida coach Urban Meyer for calling him a cheater on Feb. 5, the day after National Signing Day. He said some of his other remarks were intended for Tennessee fans, not for everyone else to read.

And Kiffin said most of his colorful comments were simply a calculated attempt by him to get the Volunteers back on the national radar after they slipped some over Phillip Fulmer's final few years as Tennessee's coach.

"We didn't have time to wait to (win games)," Kiffin said, wearing a tan suit with an orange tie. "We had to put Tennessee in the national media."

Kiffin has taken a much different and considerably louder approach than the SEC's other new coaches, Auburn's Gene Chizik and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen.

In his short stint in Knoxville, Kiffin has accused Meyer of cheating, apologized for it and then had a half dozen NCAA secondary violations reported on him.

His words have also led to him getting confronted by South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, reprimanded by SEC commissioner Mike Slive and temporarily banned by a Florida high school.

"I'm trying to refrain from talking about other schools that much," Spurrier said when asked about Kiffin on Friday morning.

Not everyone has appreciated Kiffin's flashy style, but several of his new players admitted they enjoy it.

"The players love coach Kiffin. He's in the media a lot, but if you look at it from a player's perspective, we were 5-7 last year," said Eric Berry, Tennessee's star safety. "For him to come in and have this much confidence in us, that's all we can ask for as a team."

Kiffin's brash approach is a big departure from Fulmer, who was more subdued and tended to make general statements about how his team was progressing on the field. But perhaps a change in tone is what Rocky Top needed.

"Us as players, that's how we act in a way. When we're playing football on the field, there's always a lot of trash talking going on," Tennessee running back Montario Hardesty said. "You don't really think a guy can beat you, so I think as players we all kind of liked (Kiffin's remarks)."

Kiffin isn't afraid to get into a war of wars with rival coaches. He caused a stir in early February when he accused Meyer of cheating for calling a high school prospect during his recruiting visit to Tennessee.

The NCAA said Meyer's calls weren't an NCAA violation, and Kiffin apologized later that day after Slive publicly reprimanded him.

But now that the season is approaching, the outspoken coach said he doesn't have a need to say anything too controversial or outlandish.

"Does it tone down? Naturally, it tones down because there's something to focus on," Kiffin said of his rhetoric. "What else were you going to focus on (in the spring)?"

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