When grieving the loss of someone as important and inspiring as former SEC commissioner Mike Slive, sometimes it’s therapeutic for everyone to take a step back and have a hearty laugh at a memory from the good times with the dearly departed.
Enter Paul Finebaum, who almost always knows just the right thing to say. After all, he talks for a living.
On Friday, Finebaum delivered a sincere and emotional eulogy at Slive’s memorial service. By Monday, he was being asked to repeat the story he told during said service that had the whole room enjoying laughter during such a sad time.
During his weekly appearance on WJOX-FM’s The RoundTable, Finebaum obliged the show’s hosts and gave radio listeners a taste of the classic yarn, which involved Slive’s handling of former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin and former Florida coach Urban Meyer during the 2009 SEC spring meetings in Florida.
“This is who Mike Slive was,” Finebaum said, setting the stage for his story. “He was this grandfather who you always saw holding Abigail, his grandchild. It was the simple, quiet man who quoted Aristotle, Plato, Socrates and Churchill. but it was also this man who in late May of 2009 at the SEC spring meetings sat down with the 12 football coaches at the time and a kindergarten class broke out between Lane Kiffin and Urban Meyer.”
Kiffin, who had not yet coached at game at Tennessee in what was set to be a one-year stay in Knoxville before taking the USC job, was already on edge about the rise to national prominence of Urban Meyer’s program at Florida. The Gators had won a pair of national championships under his watch in 2006 and 2008.
“Kiffin had accused Meyer of cheating, if you remember,” Finebaum continued with the story on WJOX-FM. “Meyer came back at Kiffin, and they were arguing like petulant children. And Mike slammed his fist on the table and uttered a string of free but mostly four-letter words.
“The room turned stone silent. And what I said Friday was this: [Slive] telling Lane Kiffin to shut the blank up even brought a smile to Nick Saban’s face.”
Though the duration of the story is cut out in AL.com’s video from Finebaum’s actual delivery of the eulogy, the media outlet did capture the roar of laughter from those at the memorial service reacting to the punchline of that story. It can be found starting at the 3:50 mark of this video:
As SEC fans know the rest of the story, Kiffin would eventually come to work for Saban as his offensive coordinator at Alabama. The dynamics of that relationship were and still are complicated, but the result of the “odd couple” teaming up was three College Football Playoff appearances in three tries (2014-16), including claiming the 2015 national championship.
You can listen to the entire WJOX-FM interview with Finebaum here: