Posted: 4:59 pm Wednesday, January 13th, 2010
By Jason Lieser
Lane Kiffin’s exit from Tennessee probably will not hurt the Volunteers recruiting efforts in South Florida. In fact, his departure might even help.
“Maybe it’ll open Tennessee back up for some of those Pahokee kids,” Jupiter coach Charlie Persson joked, referring to Kiffin’s inflammatory comments about the school and the town last February.
Kiffin launched a massive South Florida recruiting drive when he took over the Volunteers in October 2008. He immediately went after the same recruits targeted by Florida coach Urban Meyer’s staff and advertised the Tennessee program on a billboard along Interstate 95 in Broward County.
Now that he has taken the head job at Southern California, it seems Kiffin’s push into South Florida is finished.
He swayed Pahokee wide receiver Nu’Keese Richardson from Florida last year, but did not appear to land any area recruits this season despite chasing hard after several of them.
Richardson was Kiffin’s only catch and that relationship ended in November when Richardson was arrested for attempted armed robbery and subsequently kicked off the team. Richardson pled guilty Monday and said he will try to resurrect his career at Hampton University.
Kiffin, who visited the area at least twice last season, made offers to a few juniors as well, but none of them seemed particularly interested.
Dwyer coach Jack Daniels, a former Florida cornerback, said tight end Nick O’Leary and defensive end Curt Maggitt have offers from the Volunteers, but neither was disappointed by Kiffin’s move.
“Nick didn’t even know,” Daniels said. “Curt was like, ‘How can you do that? He just told me how great of a player he thinks I am and then he’s gone?’
“He gives that profession a bad name. He came in there running his mouth and really wasn’t qualified to be anything. He ran his mouth about Urban Meyer and everybody else, then bails on it at the first chance he has.”
Kiffin’s mouth undermined his effort throughout his 14-month stay at Tennessee.
The day after signing Richardson, Kiffin told fans he had to circumvent Pahokee coach Blaze Thompson and school administrators to secure Richardson’s national letter of intent.
“Someone at the school was going to screw it up,” Kiffin said Feb. 5, 2009. “The fax machine wouldn’t work, or they would have changed the signatures — all the things that go on in Pahokee.”
The Gainesville Sun also quoted Kiffin as saying, “For those of you who haven’t been to Pahokee, there ain’t much going on. You take that hour drive up from South Florida, there ain’t a gas station that works. Nobody’s got enough money to even have shoes or a shirt on.”
His remarks irked school and city officials, and Pahokee Principal Ariel Alejo banned Tennessee’s staff from the campus unless Kiffin flew down to make a formal apology. Kiffin never made that flight, but the dispute was later resolved.
Alejo and Thompson did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday.
Pahokee seniors De’Joshua Johnson and Antonio Ford each had offers from Kiffin, but neither gave Tennessee much consideration. Ford already is enrolled at Wake Forest and Johnson is committed to Florida State.
Ford said he did not care about Kiffin changing jobs, and Johnson said he was glad to know Kiffin would not be visiting Pahokee anytime soon.
“It’s great,” Johnson said. “I’m happy he got as far away from Florida as possible.”
Kiffin pursued top area recruits — including Treasure Coast linebacker Jeff Luc, Dwyer’s three Florida commits (tight end Gerald Christian, safety Matt Elam and cornerback Robert Clark), Pahokee wide receiver Chris Dunkley and a few others — but no current seniors committed to the Volunteers.
Dunkley and Elam took visits to Knoxville, but neither mentioned it among their top choices for a college destination.
Kiffin’s zealous approach to recruiting contributed to at least six secondary recruiting violations and the NCAA currently is investigating Tennessee for breaking other rules.
Last month, The New York Times reported allegations that the Volunteers sent “recruiting hostesses” to a high school in South Carolina. As part of the investigation, the NCAA sent officials to Dunkley’s home for an interview.