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Story Archives: Signing day a circus
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|Signing day a circus|
There was an old saying that there were two sports in the southeastern part of the United States - football and spring football.
Obviously basketball and baseball have made strides, but you can add one more sport to that first saying - signing day.
I don't remember fans getting that excited about signing day a few years ago. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the increased media attention. And the fact that the SEC has become so much more competitive on the national level.
Signing day of 2009 looked more like a promo for Wrestlemania.
Newly-hired Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin did his best Vince McMahon imitation, strutting around, boasting about his class and pointing fingers at competitors.
Kiffin took shots at defending national champion Florida and Alabama, recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron talked about winning a national championship, and assistant coach Lance Thompson vowed that UT would "own Memphis" in recruiting.
Orgeron could probably step in the ring with Kurt Angle and hold his own.
Kiffin called out Florida coach Urban Meyer on an alleged NCAA recruiting violation in the recruitment of Nu'Keese Richardson, a wide receiver from Pahoke, Fla., who committed to Florida but signed with UT.
Kiffin was quoted as saying, "Just so you know, when a recruit is on another campus, you can't call him. I love the fact that Urban had to cheat and still didn't get him."
Florida released a statement from athletic director Jeremy Foley.
"There was no rule violation and we have confirmed this with the Southeastern Conference," Foley's statement read. "It is obvious that Coach Kiffin doesn't know that there is not a rule precluding phone contact with a prospect during an official visit on another campus during a contact period."
Later, SEC commissioner Mike Slive issued a public reprimand to Kiffin for the comments.
"Coach Kiffin has violated the Southeastern Conference Code of Ethics," Slive said. "The phone call to which Coach Kiffin referred to in his public comments is not a violation of SEC or NCAA rules. We expect our coaches to have an understanding and knowledge of conference and NCAA rules."
A little more than an hour later, Kiffin apologized to the SEC and Florida for his remarks."I've been made aware by the Southeastern Conference that my comments this morning at a breakfast with our donors violated a conference policy. In my enthusiasm for our recruiting class, I made some statements that were meant solely to excite those at the breakfast. "I apologize to Commissioner Mike Slive and the SEC, including Florida AD Jeremy Foley and coach Urban Meyer. My comments were not intended to offend anyone at the University of Florida."
Oh yeah, I'm sure that worked.
Kiffin also took a shot at Alabama, which was No. 1 in the country this past season before losing to Florida in the SEC championship game.
"Nick Saban (Alabama's coach) should have started his press conference (Wednesday) by saying, 'Our great class that we signed ... I'd really like to thank Lance (Thompson) because Lance signed eight of those guys.' "
Thompson was an assistant coach and star recruiter for Saban before joining Kiffin's new staff at UT.
"He ain't getting any more of my (recruits)," Thompson said of Saban.
Thompson also compared UT's recruiting in Memphis to Alabama's recruiting in Mobile, Ala., before he arrived. "Everybody said, 'Auburn beats us in Mobile,' " Thompson said. "Y'all beat us anymore, Eddie (referring to former Auburn assistant coach Eddie Gran, who's now on Kiffin's staff). "Y'all say the same thing about Memphis in Tennessee. We're going to own Memphis."
That's a lot of y'all's and ain'ts. I bet they had to have an interpreter up north for those statements.
Tennessee plays at Alabama on October 24. Look for the same hype that followed Saban to LSU when Kiffin goes to Tuscaloosa.
Closer to home there was the Reuben Randle saga where Randle's father seemed upset that Deangelo Benton was finally getting eligible and would sign with LSU.
Benton will now be catching footballs at Auburn.
Randle better live up to the hype.
But apparently that's the kind of young men coaches have to deal with nowadays to stay on top.
Check out a cornerback from Gadsden City, Ala., who signed to play with Saban.
Dre Kirkpatrick, the nation's top cornerback, delighted the crowd in Gadsden City by setting up a Texas and Alabama hat. Then looked at the UT hat and said, "This hat right here. It don't have enough swag."
So he pulled out a gym bag, asked his mom to open it up, pulled out a wrapped present, opened it, pulled out a bag, opened that, then looked out at the crowd and said, 'Y'all ready?" "Alabama," Dre said, as cheers erupted and he put on a black, flat-brimmed Alabama hat. "I couldn't go (to Texas) when my home state got the same things to offer. They couldn't offer me nothing better than to stay home."
An ESPNU commentator asked him about going against Julio Jones in practice. This was classic: "I ain't scared of Julio," said Kirkpatrick, not even smiling.
Can you say team player?
I guess this kind of stuff went on back when, but I can't imagine it getting to this kind of extreme.
My buddy Bill Dennis let me borrow the book, "Bus," by Jerome Bettis.
Bettis is from Detroit and was quite a linebacker in high school. He was also a real good running back, but he loved to hit. His high school coach convinced him his future would be running the ball because of his size. He became a blue chipper his senior year.
Bettis loved Oklahoma, but when OU went on probation, the Sooners were ruled out by Pettis' father.
Bo Schembechler recruited Pettis and Wolverine fans figured they had this running back from right down the road in hand.
But when Schembechler announced his retirement at the end of the 1989 regular season to become Michigan AD for health reasons, things went downhill. Schembechler never called Pettis to tell him he was retiring and then visited tailback Ricky Powers out of Akron, Ohio the next month as a representative of Michigan.
Pettis became upset and Lou Holtz then stepped in and got Pettis to sign with Notre Dame.
Pettis also told the story of former Steeler teammate Hines Ward, who was a quarterback at a high school in Georgia.
Pettis said Ward told him he wanted to sign with Tennessee. But he was worried that Tennessee was more interested in this kid from New Orleans named Peyton Manning.
The Tennessee recruiter told Ward they wouldn't sign Manning if Ward signed first. Ward knew better than that and decided to go to Georgia where he became a star - at wide receiver!
I just can't imagine Bear Bryant, Charlie McClendon, Frank Broyles or Darrel Royal giving in to youngsters the way coaches seem to do now. Sure, I know it's a different story once their names are on the dotted line (ask Ward). I also know Bryant, McClendon, Royal and Broyles did not make millions of dollars.
It's a new game now. And it's much more cut-throat and there's much more drama.
Maybe next year we can just get someone to ring the bell when signing day begins.
"In this corner, from parts unknown..."
|Frank Morris Murder Series|