New Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin certainly made a splash in South Florida recruiting circles his first few months on the job -- and it seems the brass in Pahokee are still riding the waves on a boogie board of grudge.
Last week, the school barred a UT assistant coach from delivering a scholarship offer to a rising senior. At what point is the spat the expense of opportunities for its student athletes?
Right about now.
Certainly, no one could blame principal Ariel Alejo for being very, very upset with Kiffin, who was way out of line with his comments after Tennessee swayed star Blue Devil Nu'Keese Richardson from Florida to Tennessee just before signing day in February.
Speaking to a room of Volunteers boosters, Kiffin painted the recruiting coup as a Bond-ish caper, with accusations that a cheating Urban Meyer was in league with shady characters at Pahokee. "Someone at the school was going to screw it up," Kiffin said of Richardson's letter of intent. "The fax machine wouldn't work, or they would have changed the signatures - all the things that go on in Pahokee."
And he didn't stop there, telling the Gainesville Sun, "For those of you who haven't been to Pahokee, there ain't much going on. You take that hour drive up from South Florida, there ain't a gas station that works. Nobody's got enough money to even have shoes or a shirt on."
Ouch. Perhaps Kiffin finds that being reprimanded by the SEC is easier to stomach than actually pulling out a gun and shooting himself in the foot through his rich-man shoes. But he did publicly apologize, and quickly, in addition to smoothing things over with Richardson and Pahokee's head coach, Blaze Thompson, by phone.
"I look forward to this being over," Thompson told the Palm Beach Post. "Our main priority is getting kids into colleges."
Then, why aren't they? Junior Antonio Ford was set to receive hand-delivered offer last week from the Vols, but Alejo refused to let UT assistant Eddie Gran set foot on campus.
Until Kiffin gets on a plane and faces the people in a community meeting, Alejo says, the Volunteers aren't welcome at Pahokee. "Coach Kiffin publicly apologized to Blaze Thompson," Alejo said. "But I'm still waiting, and the community is as well."
So who's the biggest hater now: Kiffin, or Alejo (who, by the way, happens to be a Gator grad)?
Naturally, Ford can probably just receive his paperwork in the mail and avoid ending up at a lesser program just because some guy somewhere insulted his hometown. But for future Blue Devils who aren't yet on the recruiting radar, Tennessee's stellar staff will have a lot to offer. But without having any contact with Pahokee players, or seeing them play in person, how will they?
It's about time the two sides come to an understanding that doesn't leave the students caught in the middle.