Fulmer Way Isn't Kiffin's

It seems the more we see and hear of Lane Kiffin the more apparent it becomes he's not Phillip Fulmer, but rather the most extreme of antithesis, a sort of anti-Fulmer if you will, as to whether that is a good thing depends on your opinion of the man who was UT to the core, and a bit of a bore.

Fulmer avoided controversy like Jenny Craig does cheesecake. The most controversial thing he did in 16-plus years as head coach was turn Alabama in for cheating, which it was, or rather most of the coaches on its payroll were. And they were doing it in the state of Tennessee no less making it a particularly vulgar affront. Regardless, it made him public enemy No. 1 among Tiders who held fast to the belief there's nothing worse than a snitch, while cheating is a Crimson birth right.

As illogical as it may have been, Fulmer is the only coach Alabama held accountable for whistle-blowing when there were at least four other SEC coaches that gave testimony regarding the same offenses. It may have been due to the success Fulmer had enjoyed against Alabama.

Undoubtedly, Fulmer was disliked in Tuscaloosa long before the brown bag scam ever came to light. Those were wild times in Memphis, an era in which greasy money flowed through the Bluff City like the Mighty Mississippi flowed through its banks. A not so long ago time when the best of Memphis' gridiron talent went to the highest bidder and it was always a buyer's market. Talk about an incentive package, how would you like a brand new SUV and a sack filled with Benjamins? Ahhh yes... those were the days, when every recruiting story had a CSI plot line and acts of aberrance and outrage were recounted on message boards ad naseum.

That's perhaps the long way (I prefer fun way) to make the point Fulmer wasn't controversial. He had a knack for saying a lot without answering questions. He could switch subjects in a single sentence fragment. He had a a Father Flanagan grin and a homespun nature that charmed parents and prospects while disarming media and fan criticism. He could spin problems, issues and losses into opportunities, mole hills and lessons in rambling responses that didn't seem to have a beginning or an end. Between the tortured syntax and logic, it wasn't always pretty but it was pretty amazing he got away with it for as long as he did.

By contrast, Kiffin is direct, succinct and almost brutally honest. He certainly doesn't attempt to avoid controversy and has at times sought it out. His recent rail against Urban Meyer is a great case in point. He took on Florida's highly successful head coach for what on the surface seems unethical but didn't turn out to be a violation of NCAA rules. The subsequent apology he issued was a consequence and the visit to Gainesville next September doesn't figure to be any easier because of the emotions it will inflame.

Speaking of difficult, the trip to Tuscaloosa will be as hard as it ever was under Fulmer, given Nick Saban's scorn over the hiring of Lance Thompson, Alabama's top recruiter, from his staff at the apex of the recruiting campaign. Thompson's boast of owing Memphis went down about as well with Tiders as Fulmer crashing an Alabama alumni picnic in Big Orange apparel.

Things could also get hairy when the Ol' Ball Coach brings the Gamecocks to town next fall, given that South Carolina's staff was also minus its recruiting coordinator after Kiffin hired David Reeves. There have been snipes back and forth since and the cauldron could be at full boil when next these schools clash.

This doesn't mean Tennessee won't win all three, as unlikely as that is to imagine, it just means all three will be more difficult to win. Is that too much of an emotional edge for a team coming off a 5-7 season to spot?

It's only a guess, as I claim no insight to Lane Kiffin's thought processes, but the message he's sending out may not intended so much for his opponents as it is his own players. It says we're not backing down from any challenge. We will compete. We will battle. We will improve. We will believe in ourselves and each other. We will prevail.

After last season's stagger Kiffin may just want to instill some swagger and set a tone. In light of the staff he has assembled and the prospects he has signed, it's hard to question his methodology or his powers or persuasion.


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