On last night's podcast, I credited Urban Meyer with some class in the immediate wake of the Gators' 23-13 win over Tennessee. With all of the stuff that happened pre-game (pre-game being loosely defined as the 40 weeks prior to this year's game), I figured we'd see nothing more than a quick token handshake and forced smiles from both coaches. But Meyer actually said, "Your guys played hard," and I took that at face value and gave Meyer a check mark in the class column.
Yeah, well, considered that redacted. Based on all of the rest of the stuff he's been saying post-game, I now think it was a back-handed swipe at Kiffin something along the lines of "Your players played well [despite the fact that you suck]." All of that is fine with me, by the way, because it re-ignited a war of words and suggests to me that Lane Kiffin is in Urban Meyer's head much the same way that Steve Spurrier was in the head of Phillip Fulmer for so many years.
Let's recap.Florida was a 30-point favorite, and many actually believed that was a conservative prediction. After all, (1) the Gators are defending national champions; (2) the Gators returned much of last year's team, including Heisman-winner Tim Tebow and all eleven starters on defense; (3) Tennessee had just showed against UCLA the prior week that it was basically the same team that it was last year, one whose solid defense was hampered by an inept offense; and (4) Kiffin had removed the only advantage UT might have had (sneaking up on Florida due to (1) - (3) above) by repeatedly poking said sleeping dog with a sharp stick, thereby motivating Florida to repeat its merciless revenge-minded beatdown of Georgia in 2008. ALL WHO DARE TO ANGER CORCH URBAN MEYER ARE VANQUISHED. Even the forgiving Tebow had some extra fire in his perpetually-stoked gut, texting Meyer after one of Kiffin's barbs in the offseason that Meyer should "save some time outs for Tennessee." It was to be a public spanking for the ages.
But that's not what happened. Tennessee's defense held Florida to 23 points and forced generally mistake-free Tebow into not one, but two turnovers, and the Vols' offense was able to move the ball on the ground against the dreaded Gator defense most of the day despite the fact that everyone in the stadium knew that the Vols were essentially playing without the benefit of a passing game. There was no beatdown, and had Gerald Jones not run out of bounds in the end zone, Tennessee might have been within striking distance of overtime or -- gasp! -- a victory.
Tebow was, in fact, gracious after the victory. But Meyer, denied his vengeance, only appeared to be, and that only for a fleeting moment. In the immediate post-game, Meyer said:
I think there’s so much pressure on this team to perform perfectly, which is good. I’d rather be on that end than on, "Boy, great job. We lost by 10."
Hmm. Not so gracious, that. And then on Sunday, the excuses started with Meyer talking about how the flu -- "a panic level of proportion I've never seen before" -- had hampered Jeff Demps, Aaron Hernandez, Jermaine Cunningham, and possibly Billy Gonzales.
Time for this again:
Oh, and it wasn't just a bug that precluded the inevitable blowout, it was . . . because . . . um . . . there was no need for a blowout . . . because Tennessee didn't want to win. That's it. They didn't even want to win:
"When I saw them start handing the ball off, I didn't feel like they were going after the win," Meyer said. "The way we lose a game there is throw an interception. Why put yourself in that position? Let's find a way to win the game. We're not trying to impress the pollsters. We're trying to win the game. A lot of it had to do with the way they were playing. It made our life a little easier."
. . . .
"They wanted to shorten the game. I remember looking out there and there's 10 minutes left in the game and there's no no-huddle, they are down, I think it was 23-6 and [there's no] urgency."
So using our only viable offensive strategy -- running the football -- is not playing to win? After all, the way to lose the game there is to throw an interception. Why put yourself in that position? Somebody famous once said that. I forget who.
So yeah, Lane Kiffin is in Meyer's head. And from the looks of it, he's going to stay there for awhile. Consider the following:
- Right after the game ended, the sideline reporter dashed off to find the losing coach to ask him how he felt about not being able to sing Rocky Top all night long now that he lost. Kiffin could not hear the question and said so.
“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. Rocky Top’s playing!”
- When he was asked later whether he would sing just a few bars at home in honor of the moral victory, he responded with another joke:
"No, no, no, we didn't win," he said. "But I'll come back with the basketball team with [Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl.] He's gone 7-1 vs. Florida."
- When asked to respond to Meyer's claim that Tennessee wasn't playing to win, Kiffin again accused Meyer of violating the rules, this time citing the rule itself to make sure it was, you know, actually a rule:
"This offseason the commissioner made a big deal of renewing vows in terms of what we say about other teams and other players" Kiffin said. "Obviously Urban feels he doesn't need to follow that. We won't say anything else."
- Oh, but we should all know better than that. In the very same interview, Kiffin was asked whether he was concerned about a flu outbreak in light of the fact that his team had just played a team whose players had the flu. His response?
"We'll wait and see, and after we're not excited about our performance we'll tell you that everybody was sick."
Heh. Whether these verbal jabs are post-game 2009 or pre-game 2010, I don't know. Probably both.
But whatever the case, Lane Kiffin is making himself at home in Urban Meyer's head.