Gone but not forgotten

HOOVER, Ala. - Clearly, the Lane Train wasn't always a Love Train ... at least not outside of Big Orange Country.

Lane Kiffin's abrupt departure as head coach of the Tennessee Vols just 14 months into his tenure had Big Orange fans burning futon mattresses last January but it had a couple of his favorite foils grinning smugly during Wednesday's session of SEC Media Days.

Kiffin's knack for thumbing his nose at the league office last season put him very much at odds with SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, who went out of his way to take a backhand swipe at the departed UT coach during Wednesday's opening remarks.

After noting that Joker Phillips is succeeding Rich Brooks at Kentucky and that Robbie Caldwell is filling in for the newly retired Bobby Johnson at Vanderbilt, Slive added:

"The other head coaching change took place at Tennessee when Derek Dooley's predecessor left to return to his Western roots (snide grin). I want to welcome Coach Dooley back to the SEC. And, when I say welcome, I mean WELCOME."

It was noteworthy that Slive declined to specifically mention Kiffin, who has been widely portrayed as a West Coast Guy who never respected SEC football or its traditions. The commissioner may have been suggesting as much in his next remark:

"Regional pride and a sense of family are characteristics that set the SEC apart from other conferences," Slive said. "Our fans have made the SEC part of the fabric of their daily lives."

Slive isn't the only SEC official who is glad Kiffin is gone. Florida head man Urban Meyer, the butt of numerous Kiffin jokes last fall, is thrilled. When asked about the adversarial relationship between Florida and Tennessee last season, Meyer took a subtle shot at Kiffin.

"I have a lot of respect for the NEW coach at Tennessee," Meyer said. "I spent a lot of time talking to him. You can tell he has everything in order. He's a high-character guy. That's nice to see."

The implication was clear: Meyer considers Kiffin a low-character guy who played loose with the rules.

Subsequently asked about Kiffin bolting for Southern Cal, only to see his new school hit with major NCAA sanctions, Meyer couldn't hide his amusement.

"I'll let the commissioner handle that one," he said, flashing a smug grin.

Then, after a thoughtful pause, he added: "No comment."

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