Posted: 1:42 pm Thursday, May 14th, 2009
By Jason Lieser
As of this afternoon, the Tennessee-Pahokee rift has no end in sight. In fact, things might actually be getting worse, if that’s possible.
Earlier this month, Pahokee principal Ariel Alejo informed Tennessee assistant coach Eddie Gran the Volunteers are not allowed on the school’s campus. Gran had been in Pahokee to offer a scholarship to junior Antonio Ford, a defensive tackle and offensive lineman.
Still upset by Kiffin’s derogatory remarks toward the Pahokee community, Alejo said Monday he will not permit Tennessee to visit the campus until head coach Lane Kiffin comes down to publicly apologize for his comments.
Pahokee head coach Blaze Thompson said there has been no progress this week in resolving the issue.
Alejo has not returned messages seeking comment this week, and Kiffin declined an opportunity to give his side of the situation to the Post.
However, Kiffin had no problem talking to VolQuest.com before he addressed the crowd at a publicity event in Cincinnati last night.
Kiffin reiterated that he has apologized to Thompson and has made attempts to reach Alejo and Pahokee Chamber of Commerce president Lewis Pope III, but then went on to take a jab at Alejo, who is a Florida graduate.
“Some people’s allegiances are to the college they graduated from,” Kiffin said.
Alejo is a Gators fan and even had a UF logo on his bio page until recently taking it down. Tennessee fans have attacked him all over the internet on blogs and message boards, accusing him of letting his collegiate loyalties affect his actions in this situation. It should be noted, though, that most of the people blasting Alejo appear to have their own bias. If we’re going to scrutinize Alejo’s choice in colleges, it is only fair to do the same to his accusers.
For Kiffin to say it, however, certainly will exacerbate the dispute.
“That’s asinine,” Thompson said Thursday, referring to Kiffin’s most recent comment. “It’s not the case. He does not begrudge anybody from another school because he’s a Florida fan. If it was Florida, he’d be getting the same pressure from the community.
“That’s just going to stir the fire.”
For his part, Alejo said Monday this issue is about the community, not him.
I know tempers are ablaze on all three sides of this problem (Pahokee’s, Tennessee’s and UF’s), but let’s step back for a second and look at this objectively. Eventually this thing has to end (right?), but how exactly is that going to happen?
“It needs to end,” Thompson said. “It’ll end when Tennessee does what they’re supposed to do.”
The options at this point look like this, in no particular order: 1. Kiffin concedes and flies down here, 2. Alejo backs down from his demand, 3. The school district intercedes and overrules Alejo, allowing the Vols on campus.
At this point, Option 2 is unfathomable. Right or wrong, Alejo seems to have painted himself into a corner and it’s unlikely he’s going to back off his original requirement of Kiffin coming down to a public meeting in Pahokee. Not many people back down once they get to this point.
Option 1 is hard to believe, too, although I wouldn’t rule it out. Like Kiffin or not, and I’m guessing most of our readers don’t, he’s got a pretty demanding job. Not a lot of major college coaches have time to devote to town hall meetings. Furthermore, Kiffin feels as though he has already apologized over and over. He’s not crazy. He apologized on ESPN, apologized to Thompson and apologized in this newspaper. Alejo and Pope say those apologies were directed only toward Thompson, not the community, students and school staff.
It’s hard to say how much Kiffin would gain by coming down here. On one hand, it would be a relatively small price to pay for what would probably be a gust of good p.r. all over the country. A college head coach from a major program coming down to a town of 6,000 people just to make things right? I’m not saying he should or shouldn’t do it, but something like that would get a lot of play on TV, the papers and the web.
The flipside, though, is Kiffin personally might not feel he needs to apologize and it doesn’t seem to be hurting Tennessee’s recruiting viability in Pahokee. The Vols have offered scholarships to six Blue Devils and none of them have said they are directly opposed to playing for Kiffin. Ford and wide receiver De’Joshua Johnson both said they’re open to Tennessee.
Don’t count on Option 3. School district spokesman Nat Harrington said Thursday the county’s policies “absolutely” stand behind Alejo.
“He’s protecting the school and the students, and that’s what we expect him to do,” Harrington said.
“In a situation like this, the principal is the authority on that campus. If he views that anyone is a disruption to his campus, the policy backs him up on that.”
Is it a disruption when Tennessee coaches come on campus?
“It’s already been a disruption, so of course an individual’s presence who made those comments was a disruption again,” Harrington said. “(Kiffin) has disrespected a school and the students by these comments and has not taken them back.”