During his first two years as the Trojans’ head football coach, Lane Kiffin’s good behavior and reception at USC was often chalked up to athletic director Pat Haden and sports information director Tim Tessalone keeping him in a proverbial check. Obviously, that notion went awry in 2012, with Kiffin facing the blame for everything remotely close to him, and much more.
It’s no secret that Kiffin is not the world’s best speaker. He’s introverted and aloof. He’s candid in his quips, and yet still quick to fall into a premeditated speech rooted in deflection. And his struggles in communicating effectively with the media has lost him the almighty benefit of the doubt, which will likely always allude him until he can grasp a crystal ball. Or three.
And the criticisms are really two-fold. For every sound argument about how Kiffin’s oversight of John Baxter’s jersey swapping of Cody Kessler was unethical, there’s an equally pointed roar rooted in the idea that cheating with deflated balls is akin to taking steroids.
Without a doubt, Kiffin is a walking storyline based on the villain-like manner in which he is perceived, which undoubtedly stems from his cold public persona. Love him or hate him, defend him or chastise him, Kiffin hasn’t exactly helped his case in terms of said criticism.
But after seemingly bottoming-out with a 7-6 season capped off with a disastrous end in the Sun Bowl, Kiffin just might be looking to reinvent himself and crawl out of the deep end of disparagement.
Genuine or not, forced or suggested, Kiffin appears to be taking a different approach in 2013, a season that is widely considered to be his make-or-break year at USC.
While Kiffin was mum to the press on his decision to who would be calling plays in 2013, his actions on the field spoke volumes. For much of the practice, Kiffin was all over the place, overseeing each and every unit, while Clay Helton worked primarily with the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job.
The 37-year-old yelled at the offensive unit to keep pace in drills at one point, then took a moment to walk off of the field to shake hands with fans that watched from the deck at Dedeaux Field.
Lane Kiffin is not Pete Carroll. He never has been and never will be. But if Tuesday was any indication, he looks as though he’s going to take some steps to warm up and allow himself and the Trojans to turn the page on 2012, while channeling his inner Pete.
And oddly enough, just 64 days from one of the most discouraging losses in USC football history–and one primarily pinned on the head coach– Kiffin found a way to make a few fans and boosters smile. Over Lane Kiffin, no less.
When last checked, handshakes statistics weren’t kept on the scoreboard and Kiffin just might be the last person that could charm his way to a contract extension with a 7-6 record. But after hitting rock bottom with thousands of fans demanding his termination, there’s no better time to make a last gasp effort to become both congenial and less tethered to his play chart.
Whether or not Kiffin is being coached to affability or the spring’s first practice was more so his chance to oversee a slew of new coaches rather than being buried in his X’s and O’s, Tuesday was different. And with an anvil’s shadow shrouding him in uncertainty, things will need to be different for the most hated and criticized coach in America.