Commentary: Kiffin's bold talk reminds of Spurrier

October 26, 2009 

WITH HIS COCKY SWAGGER and brash talk, Lane Kiffin reminds some of another young, offensive-minded coach who stormed into the SEC 20 years ago.

The difference between Steve Spurrier then and Kiffin now: Spurrier won a bunch of games before he started getting under the skin of opposing coaches and fans with his high-scoring, Fun-'n-Gun offense and shoot-from-the-lip postgame candor.

The 34-year-old Kiffin was persona non grata on nearly a third of SEC campuses before he coached a game in the league. Kiffin spent his first few months at Tennessee offending everyone from Florida coach Urban Meyer to gas station employees everywhere - then claimed it was part of an orchestrated plan to bring attention to a program that had fallen on hard times in the final days of Phil Fulmer.

Memo to coach Kiff: Recruits and donors generally get fired up about winning, as well.

The Vols are 3-4 in Kiffin's first season. They hammered Georgia 45-19 two weeks ago and hung in against Florida and Alabama when both were No. 1 in the country.

Tennessee has a tough defense led by an All-America candidate (safety Eric Berry) and a hot-and-cold offense that has scored 15 points or fewer in three games.

In other words, a lot like South Carolina.

But as far any comparisons between the two coaches, Spurrier has zero interest in the topic.

"I don't even need to talk about that," he said Sunday.

Asked about the job Kiffin has done at Rocky Top, Spurrier replied: "I don't really concern myself with what the other teams do. I'm worried about the team I can coach."

Spurrier has never been big on gushing about the opposing coach. But he'll find something nice to say when it's merited. He called Nick Saban one of the best four or five coaches in the country when the Gamecocks were preparing for Alabama.

So make what you will of his no-comment on Kiffin.

A younger Spurrier might have launched a zinger or two in Kiffin's direction.

At 64, Spurrier is still refreshingly candid. But whether it is mellowing with age, greater humility gained at his past two coaching stops or a combination of the two, Spurrier increasingly takes the high road after giving the world all those Florida State and Tennessee jokes.

Would the swagger return if Spurrier started winning big at USC?

Maybe. In the meantime, Spurrier will celebrate becoming bowl-eligible and beating Vanderbilt.

"That's exactly where we are," he said. "They've beaten us two years in a row. They're a very competitive team. Their defensive line guys are strong. They smashed us many times last night, and we were fortunate to win the game. I know that."

The Gamecocks won with an offense that does not beat itself with turnovers and a defense that features a number of playmakers, young and old.

"It's obvious we're not a great team. Look at SEC stats and we're in the middle of the pack on most all of them," Spurrier said. "But that's OK. We've found a way to win the close games, and that's why we have such a good record."

USC is 6-2 and ranked No. 21 nationally entering the four-game gauntlet known as the "Orange Crush" that will define its season.

Spurrier is 6-10 at USC against the Gamecocks' next four opponents - Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and Clemson, having beaten each team at least once. If the Gamecocks can navigate this stretch without another late-season defensive meltdown, they have a chance to become just the 10th team in school history to finish with eight wins or more.

It starts Halloween night at Neyland Stadium, which figures to be loud and raucous. But it's all quiet on the coaches' front thus far.

It's still early.

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