If you're the football coach at the University of Tennessee and have yet to play a game, there are two things you can do to endear yourself to Vols fans:
>> Fire a warning shot in the direction of Florida.
>> Get under the skin of Alabama's coach.
Less than two months into his UT tenure, Lane Kiffin is batting 2-for-2.
On the day he was introduced as Vols coach, Kiffin said one of the things he is most looking forward to in '09 is "singing Rocky Top all night long" after beating Florida.
That kind of preaching-to-the-choir comment fit perfectly into the rhetoric of his first press conference. I doubt it got much of a rise in Gainesville, since the Gators have owned the Vols in recent seasons.
What really irked Florida Coach Urban Meyer was that Kiffin continued to attempt to hire — unsuccessfully, as it turned out — receivers coach Billy Gonzales while the Gators were preparing for the national championship game.
More recently, Kiffin has gotten on the nerves of Alabama Coach Nick Saban to the extent that Saban is asking players who already have committed to the Crimson Tide not to take official visits to UT.
This is in response to Kiffin's hiring of Lance Thompson off Saban's staff. Thompson, considered Alabama's best recruiter, got a big raise to jump to the Vols just two weeks before signing day.
Considering that UT is a combined 1-6 since Meyer and Saban arrived at Florida and Alabama, you have to take your victories wherever you can find them.
And don't forget that Kiffin also has tugged on Steve Spurrier's visor. First Kiffin hired his brother-in-law, David Reaves, off the South Carolina staff. Then Kiffin and Spurrier exchanged comments in the press about recruiting.
While we're at it, Kiffin also threw a $400,000 offer at super recruiter Rodney Garner in an attempt to lure him off Mark Richt's staff at Georgia. Garner chose to stay at Georgia.
For those keeping score, Kiffin has kicked sand at Meyer, Saban, Spurrier and Richt. It's no coincidence that those are the coaches of the four most important opponents on UT's schedule every year. Those are also four programs that the Vols must match in recruiting if they are to regain relevance in the SEC.
You have to admire Kiffin's spunk. But you also wonder if he knows exactly what he's gotten himself into. One of the most revealing comments in recent days concerns Kiffin's surprise at the amount of negative recruiting that goes on in the SEC.
That's a little bit naive, isn't it? Compared to the shark tank he's swimming in now, working for Oakland Raiders owner/psycho Al Davis was a walk in the park. It makes you wonder how Kiffin will respond to his first game at The Swamp.
For the time being, though, we are getting glimpses of a 33-year-old coach who is driven, competitive and relentless. He might not have beaten anybody on the football field yet, but he's proved he doesn't back down from a good fight.
And when you consider how the Vols went belly-up last season, it's nice to have a coach who not only can take a punch but also throw one.