USC vs. UCLA Roundtable: Lane Kiffin vs. Jim Mora


Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

This has been the season of the headline for both USC and UCLA. From poll voting to comments about murder, jersey switching and throwing out the media, it’s been eventful to say the least in Los Angeles.

But while head coaches Lane Kiffin and Jim Mora have been known to ruffle feathers in their previous stops, but whose storylines have been more surprising thus far in 2012? We asked our friends and colleagues in the digital media world.

Joey Kaufman (@joeyrkaufman), Daily Trojan:

To me, Lane Kiffin’s feather ruffling has been slightly more surprising, simply because, over the summer, we had heard all about the new-and-improved Lane Kiffin wiser, more mature. Instead, we’ve watched a coach who doesn’t seem to have changed much, everything from storming out of a press conference because of an injury-related question, to the jersey swaps. It seems to have been something new every week. We thought he had turned the page That was old Tennessee Kiffin, they said.

Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres), Crystal Ball Run:

The more surprising have to be Lane Kiffin’s. Look, the truth is, we knew what a hot-head (both in good and bad ways) that Mora was coming into this year, but Kiffin promised when he arrived at USC to cut out the shenanigans, and really, for the most part, he had in his first two years on campus. Well since the beginning of the year, it’s always been something: Be it lying about voting USC No. 1, the stadium walk-through, butting heads with the media or the latest deflated football fiasco. The point being, Lane is better than all this. You’d just never know it the way he’s acting.

Tim Tolley (@TimTolleyVBR), Victory Bell Rings:

The comparisons between these two men never really dawned on me before. Both former NFL coaches, who were the sons of NFL coaches, have made some headlines this year. Obviously stories that come out of USC are going to be magnified due to the attention they draw nationally, compared to UCLA. I’m not as interested in those as I am the on-field performances of these two teams. Regardless of media being thrown out of practice or deflated ball conspiracies, I think the best story here is how much USC has underachieved compared to UCLA, who has surpassed all expectations. Coming into the season, USC looked like a top 3 team with National Championship aspirations while UCLA figured to be…well…UCLA. Yet, here we are, in mid November with the Bruins ranked ahead of the Trojans for the first time since these players were in grade school. UCLA already has more wins than their 6-8 2011 campaign saw and their fans are hungry to turn this rivalry back into a two-sided affair. For the first time in years, the stakes are high for both teams, with the winner all but guaranteed a shot at Oregon in the Pac 12 championship. Will under-performing USC finally wake up or will the surprising Bruins get revenge for the 50-0 thrashing from last year?

Tony Orlando(@Bama_Hammer), Bama Hammer:

The best way for someone covering Alabama football to answer would be to say that we’ve barely noticed anything out of the Jim Mora camp this season. On the other hand, we’ve heard plenty about ball deflating, fibbing about top 25 ballots, stalking out of press conferences and the like from Lane Kiffin. Maybe it’s due to his having trolled Volunteer fans by coaching one year at Tennessee before bolting back to the West Coast, but Kiffin is on our radar in SEC country. The irony is that for the rest of the season, Alabama fans have to also be USC fans to have a prayer at another BCS title.

Carlos Sandoval (@CarlosAtFS), Go Joe Bruin:

Lane Kiffin’s storylines do not shock me. The guy is a proven, massive (insert dirty name here) and it isn’t as if no one saw his tomfoolery and distractive nature’s resurfacing coming. (SC fans have been the classic example of cognitive balance theory this season, claiming Kiffin had changed his ways, but petty, needless distractions proved otherwise). As for USC’s actual performance? Skeptical, hate-filled UCLA fans (myself included) saw a flop of a season coming, claiming USC had received too much credit for a 4-game winning streak to end 2011. That said, no one figured SC would have lost three games all season, let alone prior to their rivalry games. UCLA, though? Behind a new coach filled with copious amounts of zero college experience? With a team laden with too-young talent? They weren’t supposed to win eight games all season and they were merely supposed to play the role of spoiler, namely for USC’s title hopes. They aren’t supposed to be the Pac-12 South frontrunners in November and an NFL coach isn’t supposed to have such a seamless transition to the college game. So while USC’s storylines are more salient in the media, UCLA’s storylines are dominated by the team, y’know, playing football and were ones no one saw coming, your favorite UCLA blogger included.

Michael Castillo (@ReignOfTroy)

I think it’s a tough question because both are surprisingm though in different ways. Kiffin’s storylines have been surprising because everyone thought he had turned a corner, and Mora’s are surprising because no one knew what to expect. On the whole though, I’ll take the position that it’s Mora solely because of intent, as he’s been the direct root of the controversy coming from Spaulding Field. He kicked out the media, threw department staffers under the bus and was defiant with the media beginning way back in camp over injuries. With Kiffin, whether or not you’re a believer or a cynic, not all of the storylines are directly tied to him. Kiffin gets the blame for banning pregame walk-thrus, but that came from above him. Plus, it’s widely noted that coaches don’t actually vote in the Coaches’ Poll, making it conceivable that Kiffin was put in a rough spot over his preseason poll. Other issues, namely the swapping of jerseys of Cody Kessler and Kyle Negrete and Kiffin’s reaction to pollgate, haven’t been his finest hours this season. Yet, despite things like jerseygate and giving a scholarship to Simi Vehikite, with the exception of the 29 second storm-off, he’s handled the media well in press conferences, as he’s not producing the soundbites that he did in Knoxville or that Mora is in Westwood. Then again, actions speaking louder than words, don’t they?

Trenise Ferreira (@Trenise_RoT):

This one is hard to say, but since everyone expects Lane Kiffin to be a snake in the grass, I am going to have to give it to Jim Mora. On the field, Mora because he has far exceeded expectations with UCLA, especially after the way they nose dived out of the season in 2011. This year, the Bruins have a signature win over a No. 16-ranked Nebraska team, a 66-10 beatdown over No. 22 Arizona, the same Arizona that derailed USC’s season, and they are currently ranked higher and have one less loss than the Trojans. But off the field he has come off as unlikeable and seems to be competing with Kiffin for the distinction of Biggest Tool in Los Angeles. There was his freakout about the “Over the Wall” tradition, His infamous “I mean, we don’t have murders a block away from campus,” quip, his verbal whipping of an ESPN and a Los Angeles news camera crews for accidentally being in a restricted area of campus, and he has yet to apologize for his SID staffer that he called incompetent. Kiffin’s Jerseygate and Deflategate and all the other Gates that happened, in addition to the way he kind of allowed this USC team to fall off this season after lofty expectations, have been arguably just as bad of a look. However, since Mora could have been anyone during his inaugural season with the Bruins and he chose to be a jerk, this is more surprising.

Alicia De Artola (@PenguinOfTroy):

Mora’s have been more surprising, but that’s mostly because no one could be surprised by the media circus that surrounds everything Kiffin does or doesn’t do. Granted, Kiffin’s “controversies” have certainly had more mileage in them and seem to have caused the bigger fuss around town. In the end, it feels like both have partially fallen victim to a Los Angeles media that loves drama. If you look at the controversies objectively, from restricting practices to jersey swapping and deflated footballs, the coverage was likely far more than other coaches in other media markets would have received. The real story regarding these two coaches has more to do with what their teams have done on the field. Kiffin’s underachieving Trojans are more of a surprise than Mora’s overachieving Bruins, but let’s face it, not many people predicted that going into Saturday’s game UCLA would have a better rank and record than USC so both sides of that coin are plenty surprising. Ultimately, the biggest story line of the season could be determined on Saturday, if Mora makes his season with a win over the Trojans, or if Kiffin gets on the path to salvaging his season by beating the Bruins and setting up a rematch with Oregon in the conference championship game.

Charles Gilmore (@biggil91):

Kiffin’s storylines have been most surprising to me this year. He has an reputation that he is trying to rehabilitate and the events of this season have not served to help him in that endeavor. Lying about who he voted for in the Coaches Poll, the jersey swap in the Colorado game, and the deflated ball incident against Oregon. Not only do these things further tarnish his reputation, it also tarnishes the reputation of a proud university and football program. A program that is trying to rebuild its image while under NCAA sanctions.

Oliver Twist (@FightOnTwist):

I wouldn’t necessarily than anyone has had a more “surprising” storyline. Most objective people knew that USC was going to have injury issues that might play a role in their title hunt. So, in that sense, Kiffin’s down Trojans isn’t as much of a surprise as it was likely scenario before the season even began. I’m sure that Deflategate & the jersey switch didn’t help Kiffin’s storyline much, but don’t know that Kiffin and controversy are “surprising.” I feel the same about Mora. I don’t think he’s really stepped out of line this season. He has made his Bruins competitive, which is what he was brought to Los Angeles to do. Hundley appears to be developing nicely and the Bruins look poised for the future. I’m sure that this latest Swordgate isn’t going to endear him to anyone, but he’s not supposed to be winning over the opposing fan-base. I think both of these guys are pleased that this game means something. Without sanctions, this is a repeat of last year’s scenario. This year, USC and UCLA have competitive teams. There are many question marks on both sides, but this has the feel of a game that intends to be more competitive than previous years’. Neither of these coaches have shocked me this season, but this game also hasn’t been played yet. There’s still time, right?

Evan Budrovich (@evanbud):

Lane Kiffin has experienced the most surprising story lines this season. Beginning with the talk of National Championship contention in spite of USC’s scholarship reductions. Then the controversy surrounding a reporter presenting an injury about Andre Heidari and Kiffin’s stoic yet blasphemous disregard for the report. The recent deflated football scandal that left fans curious as to what else Pandora’s box has opened about this program. Not to mention, his father Monte, has been placed on the hot seat. Not to mention that Lane’s job security is also highly in question if he were to loose to Mora this weekend. Kiffin is coaching an underperforming team that has been put under heavy media scrutiny for underperforming, due to weak leadership.