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May 27, 2009

SEC recruiting tactics taking strange twists

Adam Gorney
Rivals.com College Football
Assistant Editor
DESTIN, Fla. - Auburn football coach Gene Chizik said he wanted to make a statement when several of his assistant coaches traveled around recruiting in a limousine this spring.

It got headlines, for sure, but not all positive ones.

Still, the declaration has been made: Chizik takes in-state recruiting seriously and he'll go to extraordinary means to make it known to prospects and coaches that the Tigers mean business.

"The bottom line was we're trying to make a statement," Chizik said at the Southeastern Conference spring meetings. "We weren't trying to do everything for the flash and all those things. We're really simply trying to make a statement to the state of Alabama, to the importance of us really hunkering down and recruiting the state. It was simply that.

"We felt like it would get some attention, but we didn't know how much. It caught wind, caught legs and grew a little bit, but that wasn't necessarily the idea behind it. It was to show the players in the state, the coaches in the state the importance of us recruiting them.

"... Everything we do in recruiting, you're trying to address the mentality of a 17- and 18-year-old young man. It's that simple. Then it kind of grew to the other students, and it grew to the faculty and it grew to mayors and it got bigger and bigger. We're trying to do everything to address what and how an 18-year-old thinks. That's the means behind the madness."

After the limo story broke, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen was fast to throw a barb at Auburn, saying the Bulldogs' staff did not need to drive around in limos to succeed on the recruiting trail.

"We don't need to make national headlines to recruit," the first-year coach told the Birmingham News. "Taking our budget, instead of buying fancy limos, we're going to maybe get more sneakers for our players. … I want to get more gear and more good things for our players instead of having coaches drive around in style all the time."

HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?

Football recruiting madness took another turn at Tennessee when at a recent junior day, some Volunteers coaches ripped their shirts off in an attempt to excite and motivate the prospects. Before storming the room, the coaches pounded the doors outside. Four-star defensive tackle Garrison Smith, who was at the junior day, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution it was like "an angry dog or some wild animals were on the other side."

First-year coach Lane Kiffin, who has already had more than his fair share of controversy since being hired, said he and his staff had to make an impact on the recruiting trail from day one and that prompted many of the actions taken.

"Unfortunately, nowadays, there aren't six-year plans anymore," Kiffin said. "None of you guys are going to write, 'Well, they'll be good six years from now.' We had to make an immediate impact and get players immediately. To sit back and say, 'Maybe we'll take it easy, sit in the weeds and sign a few players here and there, and maybe the next year or the year after that, we'll get a top-10 class,' we didn't have time to do that.

"Do I love everything that I had to do to get us to this point? No, I don't. But my job is not to love everything I do. My job is to do the best thing for our university and the best thing for our people."

The other side of the argument, though, is that recruiting tactics are bordering on the ridiculous and can skew the lines of doing what's best for a particular university and being unprofessional.

'IT'S ALL GOOD' BETWEEN MEYER, KIFFIN

One of the offseason SEC story lines has been the duel between Kiffin and Florida coach Urban Meyer. Kiffin called Meyer a cheater the day after National Signing Day, which prompted the SEC and Florida to demand an apology. Kiffin issued a statement later in the day, but the wound was already opened.

Meyer said Tuesday he recognizes the competitive nature of college football but at the same time a professional tone needs to be recognized by the coaches. Meyer said he and Kiffin shook hands Tuesday and that "it's all good."

"It is [difficult], but the key word is professionalism," Meyer said. "I can't say it's real comfortable because it's not. You're talking about your livelihood. You're talking about your job. I'm not sure how comfortable you are with your fierce competitor, sitting right next to you. The key word is professionalism and that's what it's always been in the SEC, and I imagine it will continue that way."

Humor might be the best way to deal with all the recruiting craziness. At least, that's what Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino did when asked about the Kiffin-Meyer feud that seems to be losing steam. Petrino made a joke, got a laugh and moved on.

"I laughed about it," he said. "It put a smile on my face. … Maybe if we want to quit talking about it, [Meyer and Kiffin] can go jump in that Ultimate Fighting ring. That would sell some tickets."

Adam Gorney is a senior writer for GatorBait.net. He is a Penn State graduate and former writer for Newsday. This will be his sixth season covering major college football professionally.
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