Kiffin opens up

The loss of a football game last weekend at Ole Miss wasn't nearly as difficult for Tennessee's head football coach as the loss of two players he dismissed earlier this week.

That was readily apparent as Lane Kiffin met with the media today at his weekly news conference. His mood wasn't as upbeat. His smile wasn't as quick. His tone wasn't as casual. Even with attempted armed robbery charges pending against receiver Nu'keese Richardson and Mike Edwards, the youthful coach found it difficult to dismiss the pair.

"That's why I took some time," he explained. "The last thing I wanted to do was react to something (rather than) make sure we had all of the information in before we did that. It was a very, very difficult decision.

"These are two kids that we recruited – sat with their parents and the people around them in their house. This has been very tough on me."

In the end, though, his loyalty to the program took precedence over his loyalty to the two individuals.

"Our No. 1 rule is 'Protect the team.' As the head coach I have to make decisions that sometimes you don't want to do," Kiffin noted. "It was a sad day yesterday for those two kids, and I wish them the best of luck. They obviously made a very poor decision.

"But we can't allow that to be a part of our team. That decision-making can't be anywhere near what we're doing. The last thing I can do is have something like that go on, keep people around that did that, then go back in and sit on a couch with (a prospect's parent) next year or the year after and say, 'When you come here we're going to have a great culture. This is the best place for your son to come.'

"I had to make the best decision for the team."

Kiffin still has one decision remaining: What will he do with freshman safety Janzen Jackson? He accompanied Richardson and Edwards on the early-morning trip to the campus convenience market where the alleged robbery attempt took place but was released on his own recognizance, whereas the other two were ordered to post bail.

Asked when he expects to have a decision on Jackson's fate, Kiffin shrugged.

"I don't have any expectation on that at all," he said. "We'll continue to get information in and make a decision once we have the information."

Asked why Jackson's situation differs from the other two players, Kiffin chose his words with the utmost care.

"We don't have all of his information in," the coach said. "The easiest thing to look at is that he was released right away and was treated differently in this matter. You can tell that by what has come out of this. I can't get into much more detail than that until we get all of the information in."

Vol teammates apparently were not surprised by the dismissals.

"They know what our expectation is," Kiffin said. "I would think every kid in that room would know what was going to happen. I think they knew what the discipline was going to be because they know what our expectations are and how demanding we are, on and off the field."

The head man has been criticized in some quarters for saying so little about the incident immediately following its occurrence in the wee hours of last Thursday morning. Kiffin figured the less he said the less distraction there would be for his players.

"I didn't spend an hour talking about it because we needed to focus on the game," he explained. "Those three individuals were not going to be a part of that game, they were not going to be a part of traveling, so there wasn't a distraction as far as having to address 'Why are they here?' I told the team that we were still gathering information and that they wouldn't be with us.

"I know that was the right way to go. The more time you spend talking about it, that's how you create a distraction."

Since Tennessee suffered its most lopsided loss of the season Saturday afternoon, 42-17, many observers are suggesting that the Vols were not focused on the game. Kiffin begs to differ.

"I think the evidence is in the game," he said. "If the game's 20-0 at halftime or we're having a bunch of penalties or turnovers, then that's a real conversation: Were we distracted? But I think there's a lot of evidence to say we were not distracted by this."

Indeed. Tennessee was guilty of just two penalties and zero turnovers. The Vols trailed at the half but the margin was just 21-14.

Kiffin believes the incident will have no impact on a Tennessee recruiting effort that has been picking up steam in recent weeks.

"I don't think it has any," he said. "Everybody at times goes through issues. We've been very fortunate to have a great run of over 11 months without any, then this one hit us, and the message was sent of how we've dealt with it.

"We've already talked to a number of parents and a number of kids over the past two days. They understand that situations happen everywhere. It's more about how do you deal with them. Do you keep that type of activity around your program? Do you suspend them for a half or for a game? Then you do have parents question: Am I going to send my son to that environment when you've let someone get arrested, they're on suspension but they're still around your program."

Asked if setting a tone by taking a firm stance on discipline is especially important in Year 1 of a head man's tenure, Kiffin shook his head.

"It's always important to take a strong stance on discipline, whether you've been doing it for 20 years or one year," he said. "The discipline involved in this decision has nothing to do with this being our first year. It has to do with how our culture will be and what we're doing to build here for the future."

Since the three players were arrested at nearly 2 a.m., some observers suggest Kiffin should impose a curfew. He sees no point in taking such a step.

"I don't like to have things you can't really enforce," he said. "We have 120 kids on the team. Are we going to go to 120 houses at 11 o'clock at night and knock on the door to find out if they're there? I don't know how you could do that.

"They understand we have expectations for them. All decisions come down to this, and we tell them this all the time: When you make any decision, on or off the field, is it helping you become a championship player and is it helping us become a championship team?

"If it's not, you're making the wrong decision."


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