By Jeff Woods
on Wed, Jan 13, 2010 at 11:55 AM
The legislature is in special session--with Gov. Phil Bredesen asking for sweeping changes to improve academics at the state's universities, among other reforms--but the biggest buzz at the Capitol today is Lane Kiffin's resignation as Tennessee's football coach.
In the House, lawmakers let their feelings flow against Kiffin, pretending to consider a resolution honoring the coach and then loudly rejecting it. A couple of hours later, a press availability with Bredesen was dominated by the topic.
The geeky governor, who couldn't care less about sports, seemed nonplussed and dismissed the whole affair with a flip "big deal." He seemed not to know Kiffin's name, referring to the coach once as "this person." Bredesen also laughed off the so-called student riot depicted in the video above. He revealed that, as a Harvard student, he was chased around campus by police. "I mean, this is college," he said.
Here's the Q&A:
Q: Lane Kiffin quit as UT's coach. Any reaction?
Bredesen: Um, my interest in who the football coach is considerably less than my interest in moving these other issues forward. From my perspective, that's a blip on the radar and I'm sure UT will find a fine new football coach, and all will be well.
Q: Images of UT today across television screens, the world really, are of this 35-year-old coach leaving and then students running across campus, burning a few things on the way and then leaving their impressions on what's called the rock over there. Last week, you talked about bringing UT in the pantheon of universities like Berkeley. I mean, the image of UT is of a football school.
Bredesen: It is and I think, look, sports are always going to be important at a big public university. They need to be in context with the rest of the stuff. I don't think the sports program at UT needs any help from the governor's office. I think the academic programs do, and that's what I'm concentrating on. In terms of the students, I can remember as a freshman or sophomore at Harvard running around on spring nights on the campus with the Cambridge police chasing after us to make sure we didn't do any damage and stuff. I mean, this is college.
Q: We've never heard this story before, governor. Keep going.
Bredesen: No, I mean every college everywhere, things like this happen every once in a while. Is that their finest hour? Absolutely not. Is that somehow determinative of something? Of course not. Football's important there. I gather this was some sort of upheaval because he up and left and so on. Students were unhappy and they ran around the campus. Fine. Let's get this behind us and let them get a new football coach. I don't care who it is. I'm interested in what they're doing with the graduate programs and with the undergraduate programs. I want these kids to come to school, go to football games and have a good time, but most of all, I want them to graduate and get a degree and go to graduate school if they can and that's what I'm working on.
Q: Should UT seek a coach with a little more maturity in the future?
Bredesen: I have no idea what the maturity of this person was. How old was this person? 35? 34? I have no idea whether maturity in a football coach is obtained at 35 or 55. I just don't know. I'm sorry.
Bredesen press secretary Lydia Lenker: Any other topics?
Bredesen: They'll find a new football coach. Maybe they made a mistake, maybe they didn't. You know, presidents of universities leave sooner than we thought they were supposed to do. So somebody quit and went. Big deal.
Another YouTube from last night: