published Sunday, June 12th, 2011

Wiedmer: Kiffin says UT talk ‘little bit different’

Awkward.

That’s the word our Tennessee Volunteers beat reporter Patrick Brown used to describe the start of the UT athletic department’s Saturday hearing before the NCAA Committee on Infractions in Indianapolis.

And that was just the football portion, which included former UT coach Lane Kiffin testifying about his 4G-fast Big Orange career in front of his current Southern Cal athletic director, Pat Haden.

(By the way, still waiting to see if the Kiffins intend to change youngest son Knox’s name to Troy, Malibu or Hollywood now that he’s living in the City of Angels. But we digress.)

At least Kiffin reportedly kept his shirt tucked in (unlike his Big Orange game-day attire), wasn’t overheard falsely accusing former Florida coach Urban Meyer of any recruiting violations and didn’t openly challenge Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive, who also was present.

No wonder Lane the Louse’s 90-second media briefing included the words, “It was a little bit different.”

All of this is a little bit different. The Vols are usually the guys smugly chuckling over everybody else’s compliance issues. During the Linda Benzel-Myers academic controversy at the close of the 1990s, a Big Orange athletic official pulled me aside one day to scold me for a column I’d written.

A devilish grin crossing his face, he asked, “Mark, do you know what the key to winning in big-time athletics is?” Shaking my head in the negative, he replied, his grin widening, “It’s knowing which professors like athletes.”

And for roughly 40 years, through questions concerning Bernard King’s high school transcript, through a Sport magazine article charging that UT players were paid, to the Benzel-Myers mess and a mini-scandal involving former quarterback Tee Martin, the NCAA clearly liked the Vols.

But it didn’t seem that way Saturday. The committee spent almost four hours on football discussing two violations. Basketball ran even longer, despite fired coach Bruce Pearl showing up in his trademark orange suspenders, ever the carnival barker, even if his circus is no longer in town.

But at least he didn’t bare his chest. The Big Orange Nation can only hope he was willing to honestly bare his soul. Given his previous lies to the NCAA, believing anything Pearl says may be difficult.

Then again, Bruce All-measly is no longer fighting to save his UT job. He’s now battling to be allowed to hold any job. The chances of Pearl coaching anywhere the next two years are about as good as those of Newt Gingrich winning the Republican nomination for President.

It’s no wonder that UT named women’s athletic director Joan Cronan the interim AD for the men while a permanent successor for Mike Hamilton is found. Or that the school has decided to merge the two departments. The men can only hope to be as successful both on and off the court as the Lady Vols. After all, the last time Cronan visited Indianapolis was for a women’s basketball Final Four.

Sitting in this hearings must surely have caused her to blush, especially as Kiffin attempted to explain away the seedy Hostess-gate with some lame explanation along the lines of, “Dudes, we didn’t tell them to do anything but wear bulky UT sweatshirts, sing ‘Rocky Top’ until their lungs gave out and encourage these kids to be all alone in bed before midnight. If anything else happened, it must have been something the recruits learned on their visits to Florida.”

Of course, all of this is speculation because reporters aren’t allowed in these hearings, despite these events almost always involving public universities largely funded by tax dollars.

Then again, the NCAA is a private, voluntary organization, which seems to protect it from sunshine laws.

That doesn’t mean the guilty are always protected.

So even though we can’t tell you for certain what was asked or answered, we can speculate with some degree of common sense that as Kiffin responded to questions about his UT past, his current boss at USC must have been silently wondering, “What did Mike Hamilton ever see in this guy, and how quickly can I get rid of him?”

Perhaps Kiffin should swiftly consider changing Knox’s name to Haden.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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Livn4life said...

I am glad the hearings are over. I just wish: 1)we could get on with whatever life is going to be on Rocky Top, 2)we only hear of the Twinky Soft Cakes head coach at USC if he is being shackled and hauled away by the NCAA police. Meanwhile, the band plays on as the NCAA drags us to the day they say what price we have to pay. When will that be?

June 12, 2011 at 6:50 a.m.
ColoradoVolFan said...

Good riddance Lane Kiffin and Mike Hamilton. Bruce Pearl was a good coach, but nothing excuses violations and integrity breaches.

Now - let's move on and get back to the high standards that made the Tennessee Tradition so special!

June 12, 2011 at 9:34 a.m.
chet123 said...

GO VOLS!

June 12, 2011 at 9:45 a.m.
7DecadeVol said...

This column is nothing but the usual Mark Wiedmer using his cute little phrases to embellish himself. Stick to the facts and spare us the homilies. AND....by the way, Weeds....are your own skirts clean in basketball recruiting? Seems I remember this kid named Lightfoot that you were trying to recruit for your beloved Kentucky Wildcats, although you were just a gofer. Why don't you come clean and tell the public what you did which you know was a blatant violation of NCAA rules. And when you do spice it up with a few of your little catch phrases.

June 12, 2011 at 2:14 p.m.
chas9 said...

7DVol--I'll not claim that UK is cleaner than UT, and you have every right to respond to Weeds' point of view. But it is very odd that you mock his ability to use words skillfully, his job being that of sportsWRITER. Mark is undoubtedly the most talented writer in the TFP sports department, and one of the best at the paper period.

June 12, 2011 at 3:27 p.m.
amyinsparta said...

Very funny and basically right on the money. And I bet the whole session was awkward. I mean, as was said, with all the lying of Kiffin and Pearl, how does the committee even begin to believe anything either one says? The school will be lucky to get off with less than three or four year sanctions,which I think is silly because the punishment is being doled out to those who basically have had no part in any of it. Kiffin, Pearl, and Hamilton are the ones who need the punishment, not Dooley and Martin. The whole system needs rethinking.

June 13, 2011 at 1:10 p.m.
Buttsmehre said...

Tee Martin denies receiving a payment of $1500, and then when the wire receipt is produced, says that was only one of "many, many" payments he received while at UT. The result? No investigation, just a "mini-scandal". That's UT history in a nutshell.

June 13, 2011 at 4:08 p.m.
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