Open for business

New Tennessee head man Lane Kiffin has yet to prove himself great at coaching football but he already has proved himself to be great at public relations.

By opening spring practice to the media, Kiffin has invigorated a fan base that had grown increasingly jaded in recent years. Vol faithful relish the prospect of getting regular updates from professional reporters on all of the key issues: Who's looking best at quarterback? Which newcomers show promise? How's the depth in the offensive and defensive lines? Who's going to be the No. 1 tailback?

With practice closed, the flow of such information was reduced to a trickle in the final years of Phillip Fulmer's tenure. Rather than getting eye-witness accounts from the media, the fans got only agenda-driven spin and vague coach-speak from the head man and his assistants.

"The players are really picking up the new offense," the staff said, shortly before the attack unit reeked in a 30-6 loss to Florida.

"The team had an excellent week of practice," the staff said, shortly before the Vols looked clueless in a 27-6 loss at South Carolina.

"These players are determined to finish strong," the staff said, shortly before the Vols went through the motions in a 13-7 loss to Wyoming.

I respect Fulmer as a coach and as a man but I'm convinced he could've used a public-relations advisor the past few years. His excessive use of such phrases as "working like heck to get better" and "I won't comment until I see the film" wore awfully thin over the course of 16 years. Whether it was intentional or not, he gave the impression: "This is MY program, and you'll take the few crumbs of information I'm willing to share and be thankful for them."

That's why, in my opinion, there was a gradual disconnect between Fulmer and a large segment of the fan base over the past few years. He was simply too secretive about his program and too guarded in his comments. (And, yes, Nick Saban is the same way at Alabama but he went 12-2 last year.)

Conversely, no one can accuse Lane Kiffin of being guarded in his comments. Consider just a few of the controversial statements he blurted out during his first two months on the job:

- He spoke of scoring 39 out of 40 on the NCAA qualifying exam, then chided South Carolina's Steve Spurrier to reveal his score.

- He bragged about stealing the ace recruiter from several of his SEC foes.

- He erroneously accused Florida's Urban Meyer of an NCAA violation, earning a reprimand from the SEC office in the process.

- He mentioned an unsigned prospect by name during an interview with a Knoxville radio station, committing a secondary NCAA violation.

- He offended the administration at Pahokee (Fla.) High School by suggesting it blatantly steers prospects toward the University of Florida.

I'm not suggesting that a head coach should say everything that pops into his head without filtering it first. Frankly, I suspect that some of Kiffin's comments will come back to bite him in the butt. Still, I give him high marks for candor. His willingness to open his mouth – and his practices – has Vol fans buzzing with excitement.

And that's cause for celebration in Big Orange Country.

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