Trash talking at UT

It's a good thing the 15-yard penalty for taunting doesn't apply to football coaches. Otherwise, Tennessee's spring practices might never advance past the warm-up phase.

While Vol head coach Lane Kiffin handles the task of firing verbal salvos at opposing SEC programs, his assistants – not to be outdone – routinely taunt and challenge one another throughout each workout. Sometimes they don't even wait for practice to officially start. Consider the off-the-wall action wide receivers coach Frank Wilson took during the stretching portion of Tuesday's warm-up drill.

"Coach Wilson said today that the offense was going to outstretch the defense," receiver Gerald Jones noted following Tuesday's workout, grinning broadly at the recollection. "Everything's a competition, and I'm loving it because there's so much energy on this field."

Once practice begins the assistants become even more obnoxious toward one another. Defensive coaches tell offensive coaches to watch out (in more colorful language, of course). Invariably, the offensive coaches reciprocate with a taunt of their own.

The sight of grown men trash-talking like a bunch of teenagers may seem silly to some but the Vols find it invigorating.

"I love it,"Jones said. "I love every single one of these coaches, especially during stretching. That's my favorite part. That's when all of the coaches get together, and they talk so much trash it fires you up.

"I've never experienced that. I love all of these coaches. They have so much energy, and I'm looking forward to this year."

I'm reminded of my days as the primary beat writer on UT football for The Knoxville Journal. One day in the mid-1980s the Vols were doing a skeleton drill that consisted of a running back catching a pass out of the backfield, then getting bumped (but not tackled) by a defensive back.

Everything went smoothly until one of the defensive backs got a little overzealous and belted a running back to the ground. Running backs coach Doug Mathews immediately raced up to the defensive back and snarled, "This is a no-tackle drill, you $!^&%."

This upset secondary coach Ron Zook, who rushed forward and snapped, "If your running backs weren't such a bunch of *#&%^, they wouldn't go down so easy."

Mathews glared at Zook. Zook glared at Mathews. Fists were clenched as the two men advanced toward one another. Although their fellow assistants broke up the "fight" before any punches were thrown, Zook and Mathews succeeded in one thing: They got the players fired up. The rest of that workout was the most energetic I've ever seen.

It was so energetic, in fact, that I often wondered if a really bold head coach might consider ordering his assistants to simulate practice-field friction just to motivate the players.

I guess I got my answer Tuesday afternoon.

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