Posted: 9:16 am Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Pahokee principal kicks Tennessee coach out of the school 

By Post Staff

Tennessee running backs coach Eddie Gran was back on the Pahokee campus last week, three months after successfully wooing Pahokee WR Nu’Keese Richardson from the Gators to sign with Tennessee.

Gran was on campus to offer a scholarship to offensive line prospect Antonio Ford, but Gran never got that far.

The Post’s Jason Lieser writes this morning that Gran got turned away by Pahokee principal Ariel Alejo, and that no Tennessee coaches are permitted on campus until coach Lane Kiffin makes a public, in-person apology to the school and the people of Pahokee.

“Coach Kiffin publicly apologized to Blaze Thompson … but I’m still waiting, and the community is as well,” Alejo said. “It’s what I think he owes the community of Pahokee and what he owes this school. His comments were made public, so now he needs to go publicly and retract those comments.”

To recap:

- The day after Richardson signed with Tennessee, Kiffin accused Florida coach Urban Meyer of cheating and said he could not trust officials at Pahokee High with handling Richardson’s paperwork.

“Someone at the school was going to screw it up,” Kiffin said Feb. 5. “The fax machine wouldn’t work, or they would have changed the signatures – all the things that go on in Pahokee.”

- Kiffin also said: “For those of you who haven’t been to Pahokee, there ain’t much going on. You take that hour drive up from South Florida, there ain’t a gas station that works. Nobody’s got enough money to even have shoes or a shirt on.”

- Kiffin called Pahokee coach Blaze Thompson to apologize, and then in April called me to offer his side of the story in an interview.

“It just wasn’t something that was meant to go in front of the media and make a big statement to the media like the way it sounded, which I understand that by the way that it came out, but that was not the case at all. And it’s why immediately that day I apologized and made sure that everybody understood it wasn’t my intention to offend anyone at University of Florida or Coach Meyer,” Kiffin said. “And so as I said with the University of Florida in that same talk that morning, if I offended anybody in Pahokee or have to do with Pahokee or in the schools, I apologize and I want to make sure it’s understood that is not what was meant by it at all. It was just an energetic breakfast with some of our donors. Didn’t even know that there was a camera present when the things were said to our boosters.”

- That apology did not suit Alejo or the people of Pahokee, who want Kiffin to personally come to town to say he is sorry. “He needs to come face the people,” said Lewis Pope III, president of the Pahokee Chamber of Commerce.

Kiffin spoke with Thompson on Monday and also left a message with Alejo’s secretary. Kiffin declined a request for comment from The Post.

Thompson doesn’t exactly agree with Alejo’s decision to kick Gran out of the school. While Kiffin’s comments were unfortunate, Thompson is also thinking about his kids, and Kiffin/Tennessee can provide them an incredible opportunity — a chance to move out of the impoverished Glades, get an education and play for a powerhouse SEC program (in terms of tradition and fan base).

“I look forward to this being over,” Thompson said. “Our main priority is getting kids into colleges.”

And though the principal and chamber of commerce aren’t happy with Kiffin, it doesn’t seem like his remarks are hurting his chances in the recruitment of Pahokee’s blue-chip football prospects. Kiffin has already offered a scholarship to six Pahokee athletes.

“I really like that team. I’m very interested in Tennessee,” Ford said. “It was the principal defending the students. The principal just did that to show we’re not a school to be played with. You can’t just say stuff like that.”