Football Short Story
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No Cutting in Line
How the SEC Became Goliath: The Making of College Football's Most Dominant Conference,
Ray Glier (2012)
Jan. 5, 2009
To: mhamilton@tennessee.edu
Mike, I do hope you budgeted extra money for NCAA violations defense expenses. ...
Jan. 5, 2009
From: Hamilton, Michael Edward
We haven't received penalties for a major violation since the 80s, so we're not planning on changing that now ... we have a proactive compliance program.
Jan. 23, 2009
To: mhamilton@tennessee.edu
The athletic department is out of control.
Feb. 16, 2009
To: mhamilton@tennessee.edu
Someone from the coaching staff over at the UT circus has been in discussions with the athletic director at [REDACTED] High School. The AD didn't quite understand what the coach was selling/telling him; he was too shocked at hearing a Tennessee football coach recommend that a high school kid drop out of school before graduating ... this gambit would somehow get the kid an extra year of eligibility. ...
Feb. 27, 2009
To: mhamilton@tennessee.edu
Subject line: "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying."
Mike ... Players are being asked to falsely affirm the number of hours they practice each week.
Mike Hamilton, the University of Tennessee athletic director, would find these e-mails from his staff in his in-box routinely in the winter of 2009. Lane Kiffin, his football coach, was a tireless recruiter and was going to prove to be a masterful play-caller, but Hamilton's staff ... thought the 33-year-old coach was in too much of a hurry to get his own national championship trophy. Kiffin had the Vols hooked to his fast sled, which was to win now and challenge the Gators and Tigers and the rising Tide. Kiffin was trying to cut in line. ...
Kiffin, who had been hired to replace Phil Fulmer, quit January 12, 2010, after one season, a 7-6 campaign in 2009, which ended with a 37-14 thumping at the hands of Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The night Kiffin quit, T-shirts were burned on campus ... Students were angry at the coach who vowed to get Tennessee back on the same level as Florida and Urban Meyer but bolted for the head coaching job at Southern California. But inside Stokely Athletic Center, where the UT athletic offices were located, there was some rejoicing. Kiffin was gone. Good riddance, many thought to themselves. ...
Some perceived that Kiffin was just doing his part to uphold what was viewed as a culture of rule-bending in the Southeastern Conference. It is supposed to be the Wild West with the familiar phrase being uttered, "It is better to beg forgiveness than ask permission." But something was more ominous about Kiffin's style, something worse than bending a few rules. The old-school Tennessee fans, including staffers on campus, saw Kiffin sneer at UT traditions. ... That was Kiffin's big misstep around Knoxville. He got on the wrong side of Old Smokey.
He also got on the wrong side of the other coaches in the SEC. In February 2009, Kiffin accused Florida coach Urban Meyer of cheating, then backed down and apologized. Kiffin's mirror must have been broken. He was the one cheating. He was accused of six secondary violations of NCAA rules, which included disclosing the name of an unsigned recruit on Twitter and setting up press conferences with a photographer present to impress recruits.


L-R: Mike Hamilton and Lane Kiffin
Headline writers around the SEC had a good time with the Tennessee coach. He was called Boy Blunder and Lane Violation. That was too bad because Kiffin can coach and could recruit, but it was all obscured by missteps and spitting on some sacred Tennessee traditions. It wasn't just the loyalists of fired coach Phil Fulmer who had it in for Kiffin; others around the department thought the rookie college head coach had way too much swagger.
Kiffin had come from the Oakland Raiders, fired by Al Davis, who was assumed to be a reckless owner. After a few months on campus, Kiffin was giving the impression that he was reckless, that he had deserved to be pushed out at Oakland, that Davis was not such a kook after all.
Hamilton and his compliance officers made attempts to keep Kiffin under control and within the boundaries of the NCAA rulebook. One of the department's compliance officers went out to football practice on February 17, 2009, and coaches suddenly disappeared from a 7-on-7 "voluntary" workout. According to NCAA rules, the coaches were not allowed to be present with footballs before spring practice began. But according to sources, the coaches reappeared, so did the footballs.
One former player, who did not want to be identified, said spring practices did not begin in March, the legal starting date, but on crisp February mornings. ...
Did Kiffin understand the rules? He was a new head coach in college football, but not new to the game. He had nine seasons as a college assistant coach. The NCAA manual is thick, sure, but he and his assistants were not just out of high school. ...
What was not excusable to some Vol fans was Kiffin's disregard for some traditions.
The day after Kiffin resigned as Tennessee coach, Josh McNeil, an offensive lineman recruited by Fulmer, said in a phone interview that Kiffin was disgracing the Tennessee traditions. McNeil said Kiffin was even debating the merits of the most sacred tradition, the Maxims, which are on a tall board inside the locker room. ... The Maxims were Tennessee in-game prerequisites for winning that had survived since the hallowed days of the legendary coach General Robert Neyland. ...
"They'd replaced our highlight video from the past season with Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and Dwayne Jarrett from USC. I was like, 'Man, I know we were five and seven last year, but this is Tennessee. Right beside our national title trophy? Come on, man."
McNeil told [the AOL reporter] that he walked up the stairs to the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center, and twenty televisions were mounted in the building that had still photos on the screen. The colors were not orange, they were red, USC red. There was a shot of Reggie Bush, the former USC back, diving into the end zone. ...
People around the facility commented that Kiffin wanted to turn Tennessee into the "USC of the South," forgetting that Tennessee had won a national title in 1998 under Kiffin's predecessor, Phil Fulmer.
McNeil finally had enough and confronted Kiffin, according to the AOL story. "Coach, I feel like you're intentionally not embracing UT's traditions."
Kiffin replied, "Well, whatever Tennessee's been doing isn't working anymore, so we're coming up with something new. Get used to it." ...
"Coach Kiffin cared about Tennessee traditions less than the worst Vol hater in the state of Alabama," McNeil said. "That man's a snake." ...
Plenty of fans were tickled by (Kiffin's) brashness, especially when it came to Florida and the other rivals, but Kiffin walked a fine line with former players.
"Lane Kiffin was a terrible hire for the University of Tennessee, but that was not his fault," said David Moon, a former UT player ... "You can't fault a skunk for smelling bad. But you can fault the guy who brings a pack of skunks in the house." ...
Kiffin was never charged with a major violation at Tennessee. In a statement from Los Angeles on August 24, 2011, Kiffin said, "I'm very grateful to the NCAA, the Committee on Infractions ... for a very fair and thorough process. I'm also very grateful that we were able to accurately and fairly present the facts in our case and that no action was taken against us. ... I'm also very grateful that the Tennessee football program was cleared of any wrongdoing." ...
Hamilton resigned as Tennessee athletic director in June 2011 ... He told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he had to leave Knoxville because of threats to his family.
"It reached a point that I moved my family out of Knoxville for several days last spring [2011] and I was even assigned police protection," Hamilton told the paper.
Hamilton told the newspaper that he and his wife have five young, adopted children, "so I had to stop and realize life is short and it was time to reassess my priorities."

 

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