DESTIN — After nearly six months of public smack talk among high-profile coaches Lane Kiffin, Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier, SEC commissioner Mike Slive and school presidents have ordered the league's football coaches to sit in a timeout corner — or be prepared to face the consequences.
"I think my message was pretty clear," Slive said at the SEC spring meetings. "I had all 5 foot 9 and 175 pounds of me in everything I said to them. This was something that was prevalent when I first came in 2002. … For the last five years, all the focus has been where it ought to be. Then all of a sudden, we were back at it. And that really annoyed me."
School presidents planned to meet with their coaches to reiterate Slive's message.
"We talked about some of the back and forth that's been in the press with some high-profile coaches," Georgia president Michael Adams said last week. "I think all of our patience is about used up."
War of words
Shortly after Kiffin was hired, Spurrier questioned whether the Tennessee coach had committed an NCAA recruiting violation by contacting a recruit before Kiffin had taken a mandatory certification test. Turned out, Kiffin took the test before he was formally introduced Dec. 1. Recently, the South Carolina coach was on a radio show suggesting Meyer might still be interested in coaching at Notre Dame.
Then, shortly after national signing day in February, Kiffin accused the Florida coach of cheating because he called recruit Nu'Keese Richardson during his visit to Tennessee. It wasn't a violation, and Kiffin apologized after he was reprimanded by the SEC.
Among other now-famous quips, Kiffin questioned the integrity of the Pahokee High administration in dealing with recruiting (he has since apologized) and boasted that he can't wait to sing Rocky Top at Florida Field after beating the Gators on Sept. 19.
Kiffin also got into it with Georgia coach Mark Richt, saying the Bulldogs had lost recruiting control of their state, prompting Richt to fire back.
Confident and unapologetic, Kiffin said his intention was never to embarrass other coaches and insisted he was doing what was necessary to help revitalize a fledgling program.
"We needed to have a spark immediately as far as national exposure," Kiffin said. "There aren't six-year plans anymore. We had to make an immediate impact and get players immediately. We couldn't sit back and take it easy and say we'll have a top-10 recruiting class next year. Do I love everything I had to do to get to this point? No, I don't. But my job is not to love everything I do. My job is to do the best thing for our university, and the best thing for our people, our fans, our players."
Kiffin and Spurrier aren't alone. This month, Meyer suggested the NCAA might need to review Auburn's recruiting tactics after a reporter mistakenly told him the Tigers were giving recruits limousine rides. Turns out, assistant coaches were merely traveling to high schools in limousines sporting Auburn's logo.
"This is the first year that I've answered more questions about other schools than my own school, and that bothers me," Meyer said. "And I'm not going to do that anymore because that stuff gets printed. I'll say something, and I know better now. Somebody asks me about another school, I don't coach that other school, I have nothing to do with that school. I'm going to talk about the Gators. I'm very proud of this team."
Auburn first-year coach Gene Chizik didn't publicly respond.
"I respect everyone in the coaching profession," he said. "You'll only hear a comment from me when things need to be said. When they don't need to be said, I don't say them. … I don't get my validation from other people, and I can't speak intelligently on anybody other than Auburn, so I don't go there."
Friends or foes?
Though the coaches have been ordered to behave, that doesn't mean they will get together for a barbecue this summer. In fact, most agreed that in the highly competitive climate of the SEC, it's not possible — and certainly not necessary — to be friends.
"There's nothing wrong with that at all," Meyer said when asked why coaches can't just be rivals. "As long as everything is professional, that's not a prerequisite to be friends. I'm one of those guys, I think it's important for the SEC that everybody be first class, big time, best conference in America.
"Do they have to get along? No, not at all. But they do have to represent something bigger than them."
Kiffin, the son of former Bucs defensive coordinator Monte, insists he's trying to get along.
"I have great respect for these coaches," said Kiffin, 34. "It is unbelievable, the talent of the coaches in this conference. … I'm not here to make enemies. Don't get me wrong. I like to get along with everybody. I think as you get to know me, I'll get along with other coaches, as long as they understand that what I say or what I do has nothing to do with them specifically. It's (intended) for what I was hired to do."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.