Roy Exum: It’s Kiffin With Class

Monday, October 18, 2021 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I’m 72 years old and after a lifetime of watching college football – more times than not from up real close – even I was shocked that the University of Tennessee showed a such a marked lack of class at the end of Saturday night’s 31-26 chaotic loss to a now-13th ranked Ole Miss. In the waning minutes of what would have been a glorious college football game, a gutsy final drive by Tennessee fell short on a fourth-down try and the Vols fans erupted into pandemonium. Again, these eyes of a senior citizen have never seen anything like it.

The UT fans threw everything they could find onto the field, stopping the game as Mississippi players were moved to the middle of Neyland Stadium to avoid being hit by water bottles, mustard bottles, and whiskey bottles.

The Vol cheerleaders and Spirit Team was whisked to safety. Lane Kiffin, who had once spurned UT after coaching there for just one year (2009), was actually hit by a yellow golf ball in a 20-minute game delay during the sickening display of sportsmanship gone awry.

Curiously, the melee earned little notice in the local newspaper while the chaos was the lead item in major news outlets across the nation late Saturday night and early Sunday. Kiffin, subjected to heavy boos and cat-calls in his first return to Knoxville as an opposing coach, took it all in stride, bragging about the sellout crowd, the booming rounds of Rocky Top and the superb atmosphere “is great …. this is what college football is all about.”

An announcer asked him how he was going to handle the hostility before the game and Lane impishly told him “with Matt Corral!” and, brother, was he ever right. Ole Miss had four offensive starters out with injuries “and hurt guys all around the dashing Corral but the sensational junior quarterback went 21-of-38 passing for 231 yards and ran for 195 more on 30 carries. This kid’s an All-American if I ever saw one – no one in the talent-laden SEC can match Matt Corral.

Still, Tennessee outscored the Rebels in the second half and take away a bobbled kick and who knows what might have happened? UT, falling to 4-3 for the year, must play at No. 4 Alabama this week and then face Kentucky and Georgia in a gauntlet run that is projected to end up 6-6 in Josh Heupel’s debut season, this with must wins late against South Alabama and Vanderbilt in late November.

Within two hours after the game ended about midnight, the Southeast Conference sent a strongly-worded advisory, saying such behavior was unacceptable. “The Conference has established expectations for behavior and sportsmanship, and the actions of fans at Saturday night’s game were unacceptable under any circumstances. We are accustomed to intense competition every week, but under no circumstances is it acceptable to endanger the contest participants and disrupt a game.

The memo also included, “We will review existing Conference policies and the Commissioner’s authority to impose penalties and communicate with the leadership at the University of Tennessee — and all of the SEC’s member universities — to make certain this situation is not repeated.”

UT administrators were aghast at the crowd behavior. UT athletics director Danny White called the actions “unacceptable” in a statement, offering an apology to Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter following the game. But UT Chancellor Donde Plowman stated she was “astonished and sickened by the behavior of some Vol fans” and planned to call Ole Miss Chancellor Glenn Boyce to offer an apology.

And as for Kiffin? "It's an emotional game and fans are emotional, but you never expect something like that, to see all that stuff come flying out of the stands," Kiffin told ESPN. "I got hit with a golf ball, but at least whoever threw it was smart enough to throw a dirty range ball."

Then Kiffin joked, "There were a number of bottles with some brown stuff in them. I'm not sure what it was. It probably wasn't moonshine. They probably wouldn't waste moonshine on me."

Another quip: "I got a few No. 1 signs, too, but they were the No. 1 signs with the middle finger," Kiffin joked. "I guess this is the story of my life. Nothing is ever normal."

* * *

Ed Orgeron is out as LSU’s head coach after this season. Multiple reports say the barrel-chested coach who guided LSU to a national championship two years ago has agreed with university officials he will leave at the end of the regular season after guiding the Tigers to a 4-3 start, including a 49-42 win over No. 20 Florida on Saturday.

Under heavy pressure after losing games this year to UCLA, Auburn and Kentucky, LSU must face Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas, LA Monroe and Texas A&M. His buyout on a $9 million contract would be a reported $17 million and Sunday a plethora of possible successors ranged from Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M to James Franklin at Penn State. LSU is one of the top jobs in the country.

Yes, just two years ago LSU won the national title but, as they now say too often,” In today’s world, it not a long walk from the penthouse to the outhouse.

“What have you done for me lately?”

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