Kiffin not aware of recruiting violations
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. ó Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin said Thursday he was not “aware” of any recruiting violations committed by himself, his assistants or support staff regarding the university’s student ambassador program.
“Myself and our staff take the rules and the bylaws of the NCAA and SEC extremely serious,” Kiffin said. “We work extremely hard to follow those. In this situation right here, I don’t know of any wrongdoing of any members of our staff in this, or of the kids that are being questioned in this.”
Tennessee confirmed Wednesday the NCAA is looking into the activities of members of the university’s Orange Pride group in a statement.
Kiffin and Tennessee men’s athletics director Mike Hamilton spoke Thursday at a news conference held at Neyland Stadium originally scheduled in connection with the Vols’ berth in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Both said they had received no official inquiry from the NCAA and didn’t know whether one would surface.
Several Orange Pride’s “ambassadors” traveled nearly 200 miles to a high school football game where three players are being actively recruited by the Vols. Highly touted defensive lineman Brandon Willis and Corey Miller have committed verbally to Tennessee, and Kiffin’s 2010 class currently is ranked No. 5 nationally by Rivals.com.
Some Tennessee recruits have been questioned about the program’s recruiting practices, and more anticipate being interviewed.
The fathers of Willis and Miller said they hadn’t noticed any irregularities in their sons’ recruitment, or with the Orange Pride members’ visit. They described the female Tennessee students as friends of their sons who promised in the summer they would drive down for a game.
But the visit could be interpreted by the NCAA as an illegal recruiting trip off campus by non-sanctioned Tennessee personnel.
Kiffin said he was not contacted by The New York Times for the Orange Pride story. A Tennessee spokesperson said Hamilton was approached Tuesday night, hours before the story was published on The Times’ Web site.
Kiffin compared this situation to the whirlwind surrounding the recruitment of Tennessee freshman tailback Bryce Brown.
One of the nation’s top prospects, Brown signed with the Vols but later had the NCAA review his recruitment, particularly regarding his relationship with adviser Brian Butler. Brown missed a few practices but was cleared before the season started.
Kiffin said he was “very aware” that The Times reports made Brown and Orange Pride national stories, but he didn’t elaborate when asked for a reaction. The coach also declined to say whether he knew who contacted the Times about potential violations regarding either story.
“Any time you’re operating at the level we’re operating at in recruiting, people are going to come after us, and so they’re going to question what we’re doing,” Kiffin said.
“It’s my job to make sure we’re doing everything by the rules. And we are. We’re excited about the direction we’re going. People will always try to take shots at us, and they’ll always try to bring us down, but it won’t matter.”
Hamilton expressed concern about accuracy and balance in the rush to break news on television, Web sites and social networks. He said Tennessee doesn’t minimize anything relating to running the program properly.
“But I think it’s very easy on the surface to read a ticker line, or read a little bit of a blurb in the newspaper, and start thinking about what that may mean, and making it perhaps bigger that it may be,” Hamilton said.
Kiffin noted an investigation into Brown’s recruitment ended up with no wrongdoing found.
“I look for this to be the exact same situation. A lot of stuff being said, and in the end, when the research is done and conclusions aren’t being made, the same result will happen.”
Tennessee has other potential distractions. Eddie Gran and Frank Wilson, two assistant coaches and established recruiters, left for Florida State and LSU within the past week after receiving large raises and title promotions. Other Vols’ assistants, particularly linebackers coach Lance Thompson, are reportedly up for positions at other programs.
Kiffin said Tennessee will find the best replacements possible. He noted he promised the best staff when hired a year ago.
“We’ll go out and do it again,” he said.