Vols like Kiffin's smack talk

After 16 years of Phillip Fulmer's political correctness, successor Lane Kiffin represented a stark contrast when he started talking smack from the moment he was hired as Tennessee's head football coach.

He challenged South Carolina's Steve Spurrier to reveal his score on the NCAA recruiting exam. He chided Alabama's Nick Saban about losing ace recruiter Lance Thompson to UT. He accused Florida's Urban Meyer of an NCAA recruiting violation.

Tennessee's fans, accustomed to Fulmer's low-key demeanor, were stunned by Kiffin's headline-grabbing brashness. Tennessee's players were not.

"Nah, I've sat down with Coach before and I've heard him talk about his plans for this team, so I pretty much know what type of (outspoken) person he is," All-America safety Eric Berry said this week. "I didn't know he was going to say it that early (first month on the job) but I knew he was going to say something."

Each person must be true to his own nature, of course. Fulmer was true to his by praising opponents and studiously avoiding making controversial comments that might wind up on an opponent's bulletin board. Kiffin is just as true to his nature, routinely making comments aimed at getting under the skin of his rivals.

The problem with talking tough, of course, is that you eventually have to back it up. Or, in the case of a guy who coaches a team sport, your team has to back it up.

The obvious question: Do the Vols have the head man's back?

"Whatever Coach does, whatever he says, we're here to back him up," Berry said. "He called out Florida, so we've got to make sure we do everything we need to during the off-season to make sure we're prepared to make his words true. We want to back him up because he's going to back us up at all times."

There's a good chance Spurrier, Saban and Meyer will have their teams extra motivated to face Tennessee because of Kiffin's verbal volleys. That's OK, though, because the Vol head man's smack talk seems to have lit a fire under his own team, as well.

"Yeah, it got the guys amped up," Berry said. "It shows us he has confidence in us and he knows what kind of potential we have. That just makes us want to work harder for him."

Coming off a 5-7 disaster in 2008, Tennessee had better work awfully hard between now and September. That's because the more Kiffin talks the talk, the more pressure there will be on the Vols to walk the walk.

"I believe we can," Berry said. "We're working like we're working for a national championship. As long as we stay together, bond and buy into his system, we should be fine."

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