January 13, 2010

Walls: Kiffin a fake, Orgeron ignores calls

Betrayed. Blindsided. Speechless.

Running the gamut of emotions Tuesday night on the University of Tennessee campus shortly after Lane Kiffin abruptly bolted for greener pastures at Southern California, Vols players spoke candidly -- and sometimes causticly -- about Kiffin's hasty exit.

Rising sophomore defensive tackle Marlon Walls made clear his feelings, not only toward Kiffin but likewise departing defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron.

Orgeron was heard on a speakerphone during Kiffin's team meeting recruiting Tennessee's early enrollees to join the Trojans' new staff in Los Angeles. UT officials quickly shut off Orgeron's phone.

"(Kiffin) told us he wouldn't rather be anywhere else except right here. That they weren't going nowhere," said Walls. "We're still going to be Tennessee. Let him go on about his business. We're still going to be Tennessee. We're still going to play ball next year whether they're here or not. We're still going to eat. We're still going to play ball. ...

"We're going to stick together. We're going to be a family. We're going to build this foundation. Like I said, we're going to eat next year. We're still going to be a family. We're Tennessee always. Don't no coach make us."

Linebacker LaMarcus Thompson, who just finished his first season as a starter on the Vols' defense, took a more pragmatic approach and while hurt did not appear overcome with emotion.

"Really blindsided. To tell you the truth, I got a text message that said team meeting at 9, and I'm thinking regular old team meeting for school (today) or something," Thompson said. "I'm walking in and I hear the news. It just kind of blew my mind, you know?

"From now on all we've got to do, we've just got to push on and stick together. That's basically all we can do is stick together as a team. This is adversity right now. It's going to introduce a man to himself and see how you can take it. This is God testing us. Testing this football program and all these fans as you can see. They love Tennessee football as you can tell."

Jacques Smith, who was Tennessee's first commitment in the 2010 class way back in February, appeared shell-shocked by the news of Kiffin's departure. Smith is scheduled to begin classes this morning but struggled to find any words Tuesday night.

"Speechless," Smith said. "I guess I really don't have much to say."

Smith had been among the Vols' most effective recruiters last week at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. His future in orange now is slightly cloudy.

Walls isn't going anywhere, but shares his message for those leaving as well as what he's telling recruits and early enrollees.

"We told them (newcomers) in the meeting it's their option. If they want to go, go. But we're a family here. You don't sign with no school for no coach. And just like they left us, they'll leave you all too," Walls fumed. " ... And we heard Coach O in the background calling enrollees and telling them that they got an offer to USC. He couldn't even address us. He couldn't even call us first.

"Freshmen put (Orgeron) on speakerphone. I called him five times and he wouldn't pick up. But he's calling them, they put him on speakerphone and said all of them got offers to USC. So we ain't sweating it."

Freshman wideout Matt Milton, who arrived in late-December and participated in the Vols' bowl practices, would have to sit out next season if he chose to leave. While Milton didn't wish to talk on the record, he encouraged an angry mob of students outside UT's football offices to "leave coach Kiffin alone. He's doing that (stuff) for his family."

Rising senior defensive end Chris Walker, an unquestioned team leader, indicated he will try to rally his teammates and doesn't fault Kiffin for the move.

"I was upset like everyone else when I saw it on ESPN and hadn’t heard from my coach yet. Stuff always kind of leaks out," Walker said. "He wanted to get here to us first, but it didn’t workout. There was a point where I was really upset with it because this is the second year in a row this has happened, but as a leader on this team, I am going to keep this team together. We can’t have a let down right now. We are going to do what we have to do."

From Thompson to Walker to Walls, most players echoed a familiar refrain: Tennessee is Tennessee.

"We've just got to move on and keep on pushing," Thompson said. "This is still Tennessee, no matter who's here. It's still going to be Tennessee. When we leave it's still going to be Tennessee. We're going to keep on pushing and try to build a championship program."

Walker concurred.

"I would tell everyone that we are going to still be Tennessee. We are Tennessee today and tomorrow, next year. We are going to be Tennessee no matter what coach is going to be here."

Walls expressed those same feelings and felt he learned a measure about the character of those coaches who have decided to leave Knoxville.

"We just talked about we're going to be a family. We're going to stick this thing out. Don't no coach make us. Kippy Brown is the interim head coach. We told him we're going to ride with him. We ain't leaving," Walls said.

How did Walls take the news? Like many players in an angry meeting that nearly got out of hand, he was upset.

"Just the reaction was he's a fake guy. I mean how do you come in here, we buy into your system. We do everything you asked us to do. We be in meetings on time, you tell us to come together and be a family and we do that. We embrace your system. We learn everything you're trying to teach us. We turn our season around and we play hard for you and then you leave us like that," Walls explained. "A lot of guys didn't even show up (for Kiffin's meeting). We saw it on ESPN and a lot of guys didn't even show up. Probably half of the team (showed up). You could look at it all across the ticker, who was going and his decision.

"We bought into his system and we bought into what he was telling us to do and for him to leave us like that, it just shows you what kind of man he is. Shows you his character. We're still going to be Tennessee."

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!