Lane Kiffin has been in the news a lot this season. From voting in the Coaches’ Poll to limiting media and walking out of a media scrum, the Trojans’ third-year coach has been a hot-button topic. But with that media attention, is he being over-scrutinized?
Alicia de Artola:
Lane Kiffin is the head football coach at one of the top universities and football programs in the country. Scrutiny comes with the job description. Having said that, Kiffin faces a different type of scrutiny than most other head football coaches.There is a distinct dislike of Kiffin in the media – and it’s not related to the recent spat between USC and the local beat reporters. Kiffin can do no right in the eyes of many national commentators. They carry this grudge against him, largely stemming from his time at (and timely departure from) Tennessee. That grudge results in a heightened criticism on and off the field. Jim Mora bans injury reports from practice and everyone shrugs. Lane Kiffin bans injury reports from practice and he is a villain. Urban Meyer angrily berates a reporter and everyone shrugs. Lane Kiffin leaves the post-practice scrum early and it’s the biggest travesty in sports (NFL replacement refs excluded).
That is not to say that Kiffin doesn’t deserve some scrutiny. USC fans certainly have a right to scrutinize the under-performance of an offense that features a Heisman Trophy favorite, two 1000-yard receivers, and two 1000-yard rushers.
Fans also have a right to question the head coach’s play-calling and adjustments, especially when Kiffin has put himself in the cross-hairs by not hiring an offensive coordinator. But after leading the Trojans through the sanctions abyss with more dignity than could have ever been expected, after coaching a team with 10 less scholarships than everybody else and no post-season to play for through a 10-win season last year, and this year facing depth and injury issues while trying to manage hype and expectations, I think Kiffin deserves more of the benefit of the doubt than he’s given.
After the formal press conferences at Pac-12 Media day, everyone went outside to a grassy area where tables were set up for talking to the reps from each conference. There was one large round table set up for each team in the conference where the players and coaches sat down and were available for informal interviews.
At first, it was a pretty quiet affair. Sportswriters + free food. A lot of eating. A little chit-chat with the coaches.
Then Lane Kiffin finished his long string of interviews in the TV tents and sat at the USC table. At this juncture, it quickly became apparent that Pac-12 media day was essentially Mike Leach warming up the crowd with a few jokes and stories followed by Kiffin/Barkley question time. The rest of the afternoon the other players and coaches sat awkwardly at their tables alone while the reporters ringed Kiffin three people deep. And more than half stayed until the coach finally had to leave.
Lane Kiffin is analyzed more than any college football coach in the Pac-12, maybe anywhere and certainly gets more than his share of attention. But is he over scrutinized? No way.
USC is football in the 2nd largest city in the football world. The alums (and random guys in Orange County who want to be part of the club) who give tons of money to Cardinal and Gold and study the recruiting message boards like Nic Cage reading treasure maps have high expectations.
Beyond that, USC is the national media’s go-to school for stories about West Coast football and is one of those places that will always get attention, even if the team doesn’t deserve it.
Kiffin was not ignorant of this when he took the job at Troy, nor has he done anything that might reduce the scrutiny of the media since. His antics at Tennessee were designed to work the media into a frenzy and even though he has toned it down since moving back West, reporters know that stories tend to follow Lane Kiffin around.
Now that Kiffin has tried to banish one of the most tenured beat writers in LA from his practices and alienated everyone in the media, the scrutiny will only get worse, and that’s entirely his fault. He deserves it, and as soon as the team stops winning, these same scorned reporters are going to pounce.
By no means am I Lane Kiffin’s biggest fan. I criticism him from time to time and question a lot of what he does, while praising him on the recruiting trail and his choice of windbreaker. I would like to think that I’m fairly objective. The overwhelming majority of the media and fans however? Not so much. Kiffin is defined, and will always be defined by his one year at Tennessee. Need proof? Go to Google Images and search “Lane Kiffin” and see how many images of him are in USC apparel vs. Tennessee or Oakland, despite USC being his longest tenure by a long shot. Here, I’ll save you time.
His personality is conflicting. While he’s enjoyable in some press conferences for his honesty and candor, his lack of wittiness and massive paranoia is what people tend to remember, and why he seems to never do anything right.
No one criticizes Bill Snyder over Kansas State’s swoon in the mid-2000s and Mike Reilly is never on the hot seat up at Oregon State, nor gets criticized. It’s not a coincidence that they’re generally thought of as some of the best people in all of football. Nick Saban has a bunch of personality comparisons to Kiffin, yet his three BCS titles block all scrutiny. Kiffin needs a veil of invincibility, but his knack for recruiting isn’t enough to save the pressure he gets.
It forces him to be picked apart, and it’s why everything he does is newsworthy, even if it wouldn’t be news if David Shaw or Doug Marone did the same thing. Take the media issues for example. Kiffin copied Jim Mora who copied Chip Kelly when came to controlling the media. Yet, until yesterday’s blowup of Mora, it was Kiffin who got a vast majority of the scrutiny. Yes, USC is more of a high profile football program than UCLA or Oregon, but not so much so that only Kiffin got national attention for it.
At some point, Kiffin needs to be taken as a coach. Sad thing for him however, is that the only way that will happen is by winning and that’s not a guarantee giving his play calling. (See what I did there?)