Ego Bowl: Kiffin vs. Spurrier

Ole Miss and Mississippi State call their annual meeting the Egg Bowl. Perhaps Tennessee and South Carolina, who collide tonight at 7:45 in Neyland Stadium, should call their rivalry the Ego Bowl.

Gamecock coach Steve Spurrier and Vol coach Lane Kiffin are nationally known for their swagger, although neither has a program competing for national titles at present. Spurrier's swagger is based on his past; the Florida program he once led dominated the SEC in the 1990s. Kiffin's swagger is based on his future; he's recruiting with a fervor that could make his program in the next decade what Spurrier's Florida program was in the previous decade.

Tennessee defensive tackle Wes Brown sees some of Spurrier in Kiffin.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "It's all about the confidence in the team. He (Spurrier) is a very confident coach and our coach is very confident. Coach Kiffin is confident in us, which is making us feel better about ourselves and go out and perform the way we are."

Although Kiffin's best years are ahead of him and Spurrier's best years are behind him, the two have much in common. In fact, Kiffin may have patterned his coaching demeanor after tonight's opponent.

"I always have had unbelievable respect for what he has done," Kiffin said of Spurrier. "When I was growing up, he probably was the ONE guy I looked at. When you watched his teams play - the intensity and the swagger - I think they represented him because he was so confident in the way he came across. His players believed he could move the ball and win games. It was obvious.

"Here he is doing it again. As soon as people start counting him out, he's back in the top 25."

Indeed. Spurrier's Gamecocks are 6-2 overall, 3-2 in SEC play and ranked No. 21 nationally. Conversely, Kiffin's Vols are 3-4, 1-3 and unranked.

Spurrier irked many Tennessee fans by taking some pot shots at the Vols during his heyday at Florida. His most famous quip was that "You can't spell Citrus without UT," referring to Tennessee's knack for finishing second to Florida in the SEC race and having to settle for the Citrus Bowl instead of the Sugar Bowl.

Kiffin, who has been known to toss a few barbs at opponents, appreciates Spurrier's sharp tongue.

"I think he's hilarious," the Vol coach said. "I think he always has been. I think the way he acts is great for football and great for the league. But that's just my little opinion."

Spurrier's Florida players clearly fed off of their head man's cocky nature in the 1990s. Like their coach, they expected to win every game and win handily.

"It's his personality and how he walks, how all of those great receivers and quarterbacks had that confidence about them," Kiffin recalled. "You knew no matter what the score was when you watched the Florida games back in the day, they weren't out of it. They were going to compete and they were going to fight and they were going to play for their coach.

"I thought it was always obvious when you watched them that his teams had great confidence. They walked right. They had that look when they walked on the field. You knew they were coming to win."

Perhaps borrowing from Spurrier's blueprint, Kiffin has adopted a swagger that some find downright arrogant. His aides are a confident bunch, too, and that confidence has spread among Tennessee's players.

"I do think they take it from their staff - the way that you are around them, the confidence you have in them," Kiffin said. "I think our players have developed a swagger about them, a confidence that it doesn't matter what the score is or the situation is: We keep fighting till we find a way to get back in the game."

A prime example of Tennessee's stubborn perseverance occurred last weekend, when top-ranked Alabama had a first down and a 12-3 lead on the Vols with just 3:43 to go in Tuscaloosa.

"Last week it would've been easy after that roughing-the-punter penalty to throw it in and say the game's over," Kiffin said. "Instead, the guys kept fighting on the road in a hostile environment with a young team. I see that (swagger) coming."

Some would say that it's already here.

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