Bobby Johnson and Lane Kiffin shook hands and then stayed light on their feet.
The head coaches of Vanderbilt and Tennessee, respectively, were each humbly playful and deferential to the other Thursday during their appearance at the Comcast Spotlight Sports Speakers Series event at the Wildhorse Saloon. With the start of practices a few days away the first games still more than a month out, the friendly atmosphere was to be expected.
Johnson got one of the biggest laughs when he responded to a question from the crowd (an approximate 400 people attended) about how – as one of the Southeastern Conference’s senior coaches – he might be able to exploit the “weaknesses and youth of inexperienced coaches coming into the league.”
“I’m not that old,” he quipped before he got serious.
“It’s great to be one of the old hats in this conference,” Johnson, who is entering his eighth season with the Commodores, said. “When you see the types of coaches who come into this league every year, it’s a pleasure to compete against them.”
Moments earlier, Kiffin, who is 34 years old and starting his first season with the Vols, proved that political correctness is not necessarily a product of experience. He wasted no time responding to a question posed to both men about which SEC team they considered a “sleeper” for the coming season.
“Vanderbilt,” Kiffin said.
“Tennessee,” Johnson responded.
Much of the talk was about the specifics of their respective teams.
Kiffin, for example, talked about some “impact freshman” including running back Bryce Brown and wide receiver Nu’Keese Richardson.
“We’ll see how many can help us win right away,” he said.
Johnson said he was confident his team would overcome the loss of all-purpose performer D.J. Moore, who gave up his final year of eligibility and entered the NFL.
“D.J. was one of the most natural football players I’ve ever seen in my life,” Johnson said. “… You don’t run across those guys too many times, but we do have some guys who are similar to him.”
The event was hosted by the Nashville Sports Council. Local radio personality Kevin Ingram served as moderator.