Jeffery’s coach tries to get past gas-gate

Calhoun County coach tries to bring an end to story

bgillespie@thestate.comMarch 13, 2009 

Calhoun County High football coach Walter Wilson said he is ready for “the whole thing to die down.”

Easier said than done.

Two days after ESPN.com reported Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin told Saints player Alshon Jeffery he would “end up pumping gas for the rest of his life” if he signed with the Gamecocks — and a day after the Volunteers’ coach denied saying that — Wilson said he has written off the episode to the pressures of recruiting.

“It’s not the first time a (college) coach made a statement like this” during recruiting, Wilson said Wednesday. “We need to move on.”

The feelings of USC’s coaching staff might be another matter.

Two members of Steve Spurrier’s staff confirmed that Wilson, and later Jeffery and teammate Eric Mack, told USC coaches about Kiffin’s comments, one day after Jeffery chose the Gamecocks over Southern Cal and Tennessee.

One USC staffer, insisting on anonymity, said Wilson told him the next day about Kiffin’s words during a telephone conversation.

“I asked (Wilson) how recruiting had gone, and he said, ‘nasty,’” the USC staffer said. “I asked him what, and he told me.

“I called Alshon and asked, ‘Is that true?’ and he said, ‘Yeah.’ Then I talked to Mack: ‘Is that true?’ ‘Yeah.’ All three told me the same thing, word for word.”

ESPN.com’s Chris Low reported Kiffin’s comment came during a late-night phone conversation on the eve of National Signing Day. Wilson, Jeffery and Mack — a junior expected to be heavily recruited next season — were in an Orangeburg hotel room, taking calls on a speaker phone from Kiffin, USC coaches and Southern Cal coach Pete Carroll.

When Jeffery made it clear he would not choose Tennessee, Wilson and Jeffery said Kiffin predicted a gas-pumping future for Jeffery, “like all the other players from that state who had gone to South Carolina,” Low wrote.

Wilson said Kiffin’s words “might’ve bothered the kid (Jeffery).” ESPN.com quoted Jeffery as saying, “(Kiffin) said it, but it’s not worth talking about.”

“Alshon doesn’t like the spotlight,” Wilson said. “Everyone needs to just leave the kid alone. He made his decision.”

Low told The State that in separate interviews with Wilson and Jeffery, both “had every opportunity to bash Kiffin and Tennessee, and (Wilson) went out of his way not to. (Jeffery) chose not to expound, other than to say it happened.

“I asked (Jeffery) a second time: How do you feel about it? He said he’d rather not talk about it anymore, but (Kiffin) definitely said it.”

Wilson said he told Mack to pay attention to the process. “He’s learning, first-hand, what happens” in recruiting, Wilson said. “It’s on-the-job training for next year.”

The Saints’ coach said he took no offense to Kiffin’s comments and that Tennessee assistant David Reaves (a former USC assistant) has told him the Volunteers plan to pursue Mack next year.

“If you like my kids and want to recruit them, fine,” Wilson said. “(Recruiting) is a war, survival of the fittest.”

According to Low, Kiffin did not respond to requests to comment for the original story. The Tennessee coach, however, later denied making the pumping-gas statement.

“I never said that to Alshon, nor would I say anything like that,” Low quoted Kiffin as saying. “That’s just not something I would say.”

Told about Kiffin’s denial, Wilson sighed.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “My kid is happy where he chose. That’s all that matters.

“I don’t want to get into a back and forth. Sometimes, you need to look at the man in the mirror.”

Reach senior writer Bob Gillespie at (803) 771-8304.

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