The invitation said Monte Kiffin was to be the guest speaker Tuesday at the United Way’s Tocqueville Society dinner.
The party, which is an annual “thank you” to those who contribute $10,000 or more to the United Way, as well as a few prospects, was held at Jim and Kay Clayton’s lovely home, aptly named “Lake View” for its panoramic view of the Tennessee River.
Kiffin didn’t show up during the cocktail hour, which was a little worrisome. But the society’s chairman, Jim Haslam, and United Way head Ben Landers decided to move on to dinner anyway, assuming Kiffin was on the way.
Haslam was in the midst of his welcoming remarks when his cell phone rang in his pocket. “It’s Monte!” Haslam said, glancing at the caller ID number on his phone. He stepped away from the mic for a moment and then looked at Landers. “Go get him!” he said and Landers scurried away.
Kiffin was lost. Landers and crew telephoned him back, directed him to the UT Welcome Center and then met him there and led him to the party location. He got there just in time to take the podium.
In no time, he had the crowd of 100 or so all smiles. Here are a few highlights:
- Kiffin said his son, Lane Kiffin, called him while Lane was first visiting Knoxville as part of his recruitment to be UT’s head football coach. “Dad, you won’t believe this place,” Lane said. “I turn the radio on to 99.1 at 6 a.m. and they talk about Tennessee football until 8 at night!” Monte, who followed his son here as defensive coordinator, told the assembled group: “You have exceeded my expectations! I love you! I really do!”
- Kiffin said he emphasized to his son how important it was to him that Tennessee beat Georgia last weekend. “You’ve GOT to beat Georgia,” he told him, “because I’ve got to speak to the Quarterback Club on Thursday.”
- Kiffin said when he first met Jim Haslam, who played on UT’s national championship team in 1951, he asked Haslam what legendary coach General Neyland was like. Haslam said Neyland was all about discipline. Haslam told him Neyland always said, “Don’t beat yourself.” Kiffin says he has that slogan on a sign in his players’ locker room.
- Kiffin noted that the defense only has accumulated four penalties this season. “But that’s four too many,” Kiffin said. “It doesn’t take talent to be smart.”
- He recounted that Haslam told him Neyland had told his team, “The biggest thing you have to do is beat Alabama. In Tuscaloosa!” Haslam, who was seated at the head table near the podium laughed. “And that’s where you’re playing them this year, Monte!”
- He said he tells his players, “You’ve got to play hard. You’ve got to play fast. If you can’t be big and fast, you’ve got to be little and fast!”
- During the question and answers at the end, Kiffin was asked if he planned to retire. “I’m going to coach forever!” he said. “I can’t even SPELL retirement. I don’t fish and I don’t bowl. And you can only go for so many walks with your wife.” (Groans from the women.)
- What’s it like to have your son as a boss, someone asked. “I call him ‘Coach,’” Kiffin said. “As long as he calls me ‘Dad,’ we’ll be fine.”
- He had a big finish. “Golly, gosh darn it, you’re good people!” he shouted.
Man, what a treat! John Lansing, president and CEO of Scripps Networks, is chair of this year’s United Way campaign. He related how, a few years ago, when he was driving to Knoxville from Cincinnati to start his new job here, he took a call on his cell phone in the car. “This is Jim Haslam,” the caller said. “I understand you are a member of the Tocqueville Society in Cincinnati and I wondered if you would be one in Knoxville.” Lansing assure him that he would and the call promptly ended. “Who is Jim Haslam?” Lansing asked his wife.
Here are a few other non-Kiffin tidbits from the gathering:
- With the weather reports calling for rain and 100 people scheduled to come to the house, Kay Clayton worried about the best way to accommodate everyone. A tent would seem logical, but that would have obstructed the beautiful view for which the house is named. The perfect solution: a see-through tent!
- Lansing announced that the United Way campaign is 40 percent to its goal of $11.8 million.
- UT Athletic Director Mike Hamilton has agreed to chair the campaign next year.
- An obviously very happy Hank Bertelkamp was accompanied by Sandy Fiser. He confirmed their plans to marry over the holidays. “If I looked happy, it’s because I am!” he said later. He said his daughter, Lori McKelvy, gets the credit for encouraging him to ask Fiser out.
- Prayers were offered for sweet Mary Shafer, who is gravely ill.