DESTIN, Fla. — Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive didn’t use notes and didn’t know how long he spoke.
His message to his football coaches and athletic directors Wednesday couldn’t be clearer: Stop the public verbal sparring of the past few months. Now.
“I had all 5-9, 170 pounds of me into every word I said,” Slive said.
Slive hasn’t been happy about the string of public exchanges over the past few months, almost all involving new Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin.
Coaches said the commissioner didn’t mince words behind closed doors Wednesday during joint session of football coaches and athletic directors at the league’s annual spring business meetings. He once again pointed out that the SEC set principles for all its coaches in 2004.
“We’ve made tremendous progress on keeping the news about the players and not about matters that take place off the field. And I reiterated that,” Slive told reporters later.
Slive’s reminder came after another public exchange Tuesday involving Kiffin. South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier confronted Kiffin in front of the media after being told that Kiffin said that he has never received an apology from Spurrier after the Gamecocks coach publicly questioned whether he had passed the NCAA recruiting test before calling prospects.
Spurrier turned and saw Kiffin, who was waiting to board an elevator after a meeting of all the coaches.
“I didn’t accuse you of cheating,” Spurrier said, while pointing at Kiffin. “I said, ‘Is it permissible to call recruits before he’s announced as head coach, before you take the test?’”
Spurrier turned back to the reporters and added, “He took the test online, and I didn’t know you could do that. I thought you had to take the test on campus, then get announced.”
Kiffin, clearly embarrassed, mumbled something inaudible. When the elevator finally arrived, Kiffin, Kentucky’s Rich Brooks, Auburn’s Gene Chizik and Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino got in along with Spurrier.
Spurrier again said as the doors closed, “I didn’t say he broke the rules. I just said, ‘Is it permissible to make calls?’”
Slive said his impassioned speech wasn’t directed solely at Kiffin, who has taken shots at Florida, South Carolina and Alabama. Kiffin wasn’t available for comment afterward, walking out the door and heading straight for the nearest exit.
Some of the coaches who lingered said Slive’s emotion was obvious.
“It was awesome, he came with it today, he was really good,” Mississippi coach Houston Nutt said. “Mike Slive’s got real passion, and he cares about our league. His bottom line was simple: ‘We’re a team.”’
Added Georgia’s Mark Richt, “We’ve got the greatest league in the country, and we don’t need to do anything to detract from that. We want the attention to be on athletic and academic performance.”
Athletic directors, like Auburn’s Jay Jacobs, also were buzzing.
“He made it clear everybody’s expectations and the accountability he’s going to hold them to,” Jacobs said. “When he speaks from the heart like that, with passion and emotion, it comes through.”
Slive has the power to reprimand and fine coaches if the yapping continues. But he doesn’t think that’s going to be necessary.
“I believe they got my message,” he said with a smile.