Kiffin pointed out the disparity in penalties (8 on UT, 1 on the Tide). He noted that Bama's Terrence Cody should've been penalized for removing his helmet while he was still on the field and the ball was still live. And he admitted being reluctant to run another play before attempting a potential game-winning field goal because he "wasn't going to let the refs lose the game for us" by throwing "a magical flag."
The comments drew a reprimand Slive but drew kudos from Tennessee's players. The fact their coach stood up for them - knowing his candor would earn him a second strike in his relationship with the SEC commissioner - pleased the Vols ... but didn't surprise them.
"That's expected; he's always got our backs through anything," redshirt freshman offensive tackle Aaron Douglas said. "That doesn't surprise me at all. It definitely feels good but it doesn't surprise me. He's definitely got our backs."
Apparently, his Vol teammates are similarly encouraged by the coach's refusal to bite his lip when he feels his players aren't getting a fair shake.
"We already know that's how he is; he's always got our backs through anything," Douglas said. "But it definitely makes you feel good, knowing that your coach has always got your back like that."
Senior defensive tackle Wes Brown echoed those sentiments.
"When you have a coach that goes to bat for you, it really instills confidence in you," Brown said. "You really believe in what he says, and it goes from him to our senior leadership and throughout the whole team.
"Having a guy that believes in you and is going to bat for you gives us confidence. We believe in him."
When asked how important it was for him to stand up for his players, however, Kiffin paused thoughtfully. Facing a possible suspension if he incurs another reprimand from the SEC office, he chose his words carefully.
"As you guys know, we have great confidence in our players," Kiffin said. "We always stand up for our players. It's no different than the quarterback. We've stood behind this quarterback (Jonathan Crompton) all year long, and it's paid off for us.
"We do that with a bunch of our players, even when they have tough games. We go back to 'em, and I think our players feel that from our staff ... that we have great confidence in 'em, and I think it's showing. I think it's showing by how hard our players play, how bad they want to win and how important it is to 'em."