KNOXVILLE, Tenn | Lane Kiffin's first game against Florida just got much more interesting.
The new Tennessee coach was reprimanded by the Southeastern Conference and issued an apology on Thursday for falsely accusing Florida's Urban Meyer of a recruiting violation.
Earlier in the day, Kiffin told fans at a breakfast celebrating UT's recruiting class that Meyer violated rules by phoning Nu'Keese Richardson while the wide receiver prospect was on an official visit at Tennessee.
"I love the fact that Urban had to cheat and still didn't get him," Kiffin said, according to a WVLT-TV report.
NCAA and Southeastern Conference officials said it is not against recruiting rules to contact a recruit while they are on an official visit to another school.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley rushed to his coach's defense, delivering a quick and harsh response to Kiffin's statement and called for him to apologize.
"It is obvious that coach Kiffin doesn't know that there is not a rule precluding phone contact with a prospect during an official visit on another campus during a contact period," Foley said in a statement.
"His allegations are inappropriate, out of line and, most importantly, totally false. It is completely unfair to Urban Meyer, our coaching staff, our football program and our institution," he said.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive then reprimanded Kiffin for publicly criticizing Meyer, which is against the league's code of ethics.
That led to Kiffin's apology.
"In my enthusiasm for our recruiting class, I made some statements that were meant solely to excite those at the breakfast," Kiffin said. "I apologize to commissioner Mike Slive and the SEC, including Florida (athletic director) Jeremy Foley and coach Urban Meyer. My comments were not intended to offend anyone at the University of Florida."
Kiffin's first game against Meyer's defending national champion Gators is Sept. 19 in Gainesville, Fla. The Florida-Tennessee rivalry, dominated by the Gators since Meyer's arrival four years ago, is always heated. But Kiffin's comments will undoubtedly be remembered by Florida and its fans when Tennessee comes to town next season, and become a storyline in the lead up to the game.
Florida is 4-0 against Tennessee under Meyer.
Richardson, a Pahokee, Fla., native, signed with the Volunteers on Tuesday, despite having committed in May to the Gators. Another prospect committed to Florida, athlete Marsalis Teague, also signed with the Vols.
Kiffin was hired by Tennessee in November to replace Phillip Fulmer, after being fired four weeks into the NFL season by the Oakland Raiders. It is his first job as head coach of a college team.
Kiffin was 5-15 in just over one season with the Raiders, but owner Al Davis said he fired the coach because of his frequent public criticisms of the organization and some of its players even after Kiffin had been ordered to stop.
The 33-year-old coach was on the receiving end of questions about recruiting violations days after he was introduced at Tennessee.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier questioned whether Kiffin broke rules by contacting a recruit before being cleared by the NCAA to do so. Kiffin assured fans that he had been notified by the NCAA that he was cleared before making his first phone call.