Kicking it with Lane Kiffin, Part II

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Lane Kiffin was 1 the last time somebody not named John Majors or Phillip Fulmer was heading up the Tennessee football program.

The year was 1976, and Bill Battle was in his final season.

Since that time, the Vols have won five SEC championships and a national championship, the latter by the guy Kiffin is replacing. Word is that Fulmer is scheduled to be in Neyland Stadium on Saturday watching from a luxury suite.

The gaudy expectations that Fulmer helped to create at Tennessee with his 45-5 run in the 1990s are part of what ultimately got him.

Now it’s up to the 34-year-old Kiffin to see what he can do with a program that lost its sizzle for much of this decade -- and as Fulmer himself conceded the day he was fired -- saw its fan base divided.

Here’s Part II of my Q&A with Kiffin:

You’ll obviously know more as you get deeper into the season, but do you think your talent level is good enough that you can make a run in the East this year?

Lane Kiffin: I think it is, but there are always so many variables you can’t control and have no idea about. People ask me, and I say, ‘We’ll be good when we get good.’ When that is? I don’t know. I don’t know how many weeks it’s going to take. I don’t know how many years it’s going to take. There are so many things that come into play -- the bounce of the ball, the kicker, injuries, how guys come together and how your freshmen develop. There’s really, truly no way of knowing how good we will be this year.

You put together a nationally ranked recruiting class in February despite not getting hired until December and being short-handed with your staff. But there were four SEC teams, the teams you have to beat at Tennessee, that finished ahead of you in the recruiting rankings. Did you see those rankings, and does that even matter to you?

LK: I did see the final rankings, and we were one spot ahead of Florida, so there were only three teams that we have to beat that were ahead of us. So I don’t know. Whichever ranking we were ahead of them in is the one we use [laughing].

How much ground do you guys have to make up in recruiting to catch the people in front of you?

LK: What you’ve got to remember is that those other teams have been doing it very well for a number of years. We had a very good class, and we can see that by how many of those guys are playing right now for us as freshmen. It’s not just the signing of players that’s important. It’s the development of them and the evaluation of them. You see highly ranked classes all over the place, and some become very successful and some don’t. I think we have a very good plan to develop our freshmen. But, remember, we’ve only done it here for one year. Those other guys -- LSU, Florida, Alabama -- they have it going, and we’re just starting. But we plan to get there.

How many times have you met somebody in these last several months and they came away telling you that you’re nothing like the loudmouth you’ve been portrayed as in a lot of circles?

LK: All the time. Almost every person that comes in and sits down with me one-on-one and spends some time around me says the same thing. Why that happens? I don’t know. Obviously I’ve said some things that create a perception, but I think that perception has been run with a lot, written about a lot and spun to be one way. Some people get it. They might not have gotten it at first and had no idea where I was going. They probably thought I was just going off the cusp and saying this or saying that. But they give it a little time and say, ‘I get it. Bryce Brown signed there, the No. 1 player in the country.’ When we started all this, he wasn’t even going to set foot on this campus. The same thing with Janzen Jackson, a five-star player who had been committed to LSU for a year. Those guys just don’t leave Louisiana, but we were able to get him. I think people have seen now how everything has played out, how excited our players are, how motivated they are and how excited our fan base is.

Do you think you’ve crossed the line with anything you’ve said or done to draw attention to the program?

LK: What was I hired to do? I wasn’t hired to please people in chat rooms in other cities of SEC schools. I was hired by our athletic director for the Tennessee people, the people around here, the state of Tennessee, our fans and our future recruits. So when you look at it from that aspect, the people that I was hired for are extremely excited about where we’re going.

Isn’t there some revisionist history here? Were you genuinely thinking in those terms when you stood up at the recruiting breakfast back in February and made your comments about Urban Meyer?

LK: Way before that, there was a plan. Every plan doesn’t go exactly the way you draw it up. There are some things I said that I didn’t like to say that I had to say on purpose. Sometimes, a question leads to something else and it gets answered a different way than if you had some more time to think about it.

Isn’t the reality, though, that regardless of what you’ve said and done these last nine months, the only evaluation of you that truly counts is the one that begins Saturday at Neyland Stadium?

LK: The best way to get things on track is to win. Well, we haven’t played any games yet. So if we had sat around until this Saturday to create energy around the Tennessee program and get us out in Sports Illustrated and on ESPN, it would have been too late. That was all for recruiting. Kids nowadays want to go to the in school. They want to go to the place they’re reading about. We’ve gotten there. Now, like the billboards say, it’s time. Now it’s time to play some ball. We’ve done everything we can to this point to help us off the field. Now we’ve got to go do it on the field.