Dec 31, 2012; El Paso, TX, USA; Southern California Trojans coach Lane Kiffin reacts during the 2012 Sun Bowl against the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets at Sun Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

Contradictions Don’t Help Lane Kiffin’s Case

September 7, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin watches game action against the Washington State Cougars during the second half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Somewhere in the bowels of the pristine new John Mckay Center, Lane Kiffin is sinking his shovel into the next layer of dirt, digging himself deeper and deeper into the hole that is his tenure as USC’s head football coach.

The loss against Washington State on Saturday was a new low, but Kiffin doesn’t seem ready to relinquish the shovel — not yet at least.

Tuesday the digging took the form of a steady stream of contradictions.

After the loss, players indicated that there would be a players-only meeting to sort things out. On Sunday’s weekly conference call, Kiffin indicated that he believed no such meeting had been called. By Tuesday, Marqise Lee revealed after practice that a players-only meeting had indeed taken place.

There are two potential explanations to this contradiction. One, Kiffin lied. Two, Kiffin is out of the loop. Neither explanation inspires much confidence.

Kiffin has a history of lying in moments when a lie is unnecessary. Last season he lost his vote in the USA Today Coaches poll because he claimed he didn’t rank his Trojans #1 when he in fact had.

If he was just out of the loop, it does little to help matters. After suffering an embarrassing loss, his players felt it important enough to meet among themselves, to attempt to right the ship. Kiffin, it seems, was unconcerned with their efforts.

Even giving Kiffin the benefit of the doubt, allowing for the possibility that the meeting could have taken place after the conference call, his lack of knowledge regarding the status of said meeting is cause for concern.

He already faces criticism for his demeanor on the sidelines during the game. With his face buried in the playsheet, he doesn’t seem to engage his players. The quarterback comes off the field after an interception and Kiffin isn’t there to lend a word of encouragement or constructive criticism.

At any other time, with any other coach, ignorance of a players-only meeting would be a non-issue. For Kiffin, in this moment, it feels like just another mark against him, another indication of how he lacks control of his program, another example of how he and the players are not on the same page.

Further illustration of that presented itself in the form of Max Wittek Tuesday. When Kiffin announced that the decision regarding the starting quarterback had been made, he said that he spent extra time with Wittek, who didn’t win the job, “making sure that he’s ready to go, and that he’s in a good place.”

The impression was that the conversation was meaningful, but according to Wittek, “It wasn’t a real extensive conversation.”

The contradictions didn’t end there unfortunately.

When pressed about the way he handled the quarterback battle and the decision to split time between Kessler and Wittek through two games, Kiffin insisted that he’d handled things the right way. Yet Kessler didn’t sugar coat things after practice Tuesday, when he told reporters that the lack of decisiveness had affected him and that he had trouble getting his mindset right for the games without knowing where he stood. He added that finally being named the full-time starter has given him “a while new type of confidence” in the two practices since his spot was solidified.

Those statements in and of themselves reveal just how wrong Kiffin was in his handling of the quarterback situation. The quarterback position is a confidence position. Insert a QB who isn’t sure of himself and you are inviting him to fail. Kiffin did that to both of his players, limiting their potential by saddling them with the weight of uncertainty. In no way was that the proper way to handle the quarterbacks.

Again, we have two potential explanations. One, Kiffin lied. Two, Kiffin is hopelessly out of the loop.

And again, neither explanation inspires much confidence.


Tags: Cody Kessler Football Lane Kiffin Max Wittek USC Trojans

  • Matthew Moreno

    Kiffin’s downward spiral continues…

    As for Kessler, he’s talking the talk. Let’s see if he can walk the walk.

    Kiffin will have to help him out with better play calling and if that happens, Kessler will need to step up.

    If Kessler is put in better situations and his results mirror what we’ve already seen, his alleged newfound confidence will be a moot point

    • Michael Castillo

      Kessler definitely needs to walk to the walk. I really can’t wait to see how Saturday plays out and we’re going to learn a lot. Either Kiffin’s going to give him chances or he’s not, and how Kessler reacts to either situation is going to be really telling going into the daunting four-game stretch of Utah State, ASU, Arizona and Notre Dame. This is the week that progress needs to be made, or it’s going to be an awful turn.

    • Trojan_SD

      Exactly. Kessler was definitely limited by the play calling, but his interception, for example, was a REALLY bad throw. He needs to step it up.

      You can say all you want about confidence, but if you’re an elite QB, you make the throws that you’re given. Kiff’s not dialing up any long passes, fine, but it should be even easier to complete the short range dinks. He was throwing balls into the hands of Hawaii’s D-line a few times. Hard to blame that on play calling.

  • maomapu

    If you’re battling for a starting position with others, you should be ready to step in whenever you’re called on. How Kiffin handled things with the QB situation didn’t help but that’s no excuse for Kessler not to be ready. It’s almost sounding like an excuse for how he played, and neither played very well at all.

    • Michael Castillo

      He’s said these last two practices as the No. 1 have been “awesome”, so perhaps things are getting better in terms of confidence.

      • maomapu

        That’s very encouraging news Michael. It’s not too late to turn this thing around so I’ll be rooting for Kiffin to do that becuz I don’t believe the main problem is the players. But that’s good news about the last couple of practices.

    • PenguinOfTroy

      The handling of the QB situation in no way excuses Kessler (and Wittek) for their poor play. Having said that, football is a game of inches, and little things like having to look over your shoulder can have a very real and important impact on every play.
      The bigger thing to look at right now is game plan. The first two games featured an offensive game plan that both QBs could run, but that didn’t play to either’s strengths.
      This week Kiffin is going to have a chance to redeem himself by game planning specifically for Cody. We’ll see if that makes a difference.

  • Michael Castillo

    This was a great, great read. And you’re exactly right, a lie doesn’t help anyone, nor does distance/ignorance. Communication is everything as always and with the back against the wall and pressure mounting, Kiffin can’t afford to be struggling with these kind of situations.

    • disqus_5mzWKSTg3O

      It’s like the guy is trying to make things harder.
      I understand he wants to keep injury statuses, etc from leaking to opponents, but he needs to practice what he says.
      A simple ‘Kessler will get playing time, as well as Wittek’ would go over so much smoothly than ‘we’ll make the decision’.
      Geez, Kiffin, it’s your funeral and you keep making the grave deeper. Why?

      • Michael Castillo

        Yep. I get that Kiffin’s aloof and he’s not good with media, but for someone so concerned in protecting the QBs from criticism, you’d think he’d be able to have some sort of transparency, if only to instill confidence in them publicly.

  • disqus_5mzWKSTg3O

    I was afraid of this. Has Kiffin lost the team (offense)?
    I don’t think Kiffin’ s job is salvageable. Now that I think about it, in the last 4 or so games, USC has looked a lot like ucla did in Neuheisel’ s last days.

    • Michael Castillo

      I think we’ll learn a looooot this week in terms of whether or not he’s lost the team. The team was embarrassed offensively last week, and how they bounce back from that is going to define both the narrative and Kiffin’s season.

      And you’re right, they have looked like UCLA back when they had Kevin Craft. There were plenty of awful awful performances from Craft with Chow as the OC, where everything was short in the passing game and it was Johnathan Franklin or bust.

  • steveg

    Kiffin has historically been out of the loop, unable to lead, and utterly lost when a decision needs to be made.
    Now if only he will give Kessler the tools, we can have a successful offense to match our incredible defense which nobody seems to want to recognize. DOWNFIELD passes, tight ends, play action, QB run plays. Pendergast has let his guys play, now Kiff needs to do the same.

  • lcaldwell

    Kessler throw a pass longer than 8yds and then you can talk. Right now Trojan Alum & Fans want to see what Max Browne can do because in two games both Kessler and Wittek look like total busts!

    Right now Kessler and Wittek should be embarrassed and not putting blame on Kiffin. I am not defending Kiffin, but there is a big difference between making a bad play call and a QB not being able to make simple throws and reads!

    • PenguinOfTroy

      I can’t imagine that Max Browne could run this offense any better than we’ve seen from the other two QBs who have been in the system. Matt Barkley was a rare-breed and even his freshman season was trying at times.
      I’m going to wait to judge Kessler until we see him without the pressure of knowing he could get pulled at any moment.
      Something to remember, Kessler threw a perfect pass to Agholor for that 19-yard TD. He’s capable of making throws. The mental side is the issue right now.