Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
USC’s Lane Kiffin is entering his fourth year as the head coach of the Trojan football program, and its been a tenure filled with thrilling highs and debilitating lows. Coming off an abysmal 2012 effort, Kiffin faced the press at Pac-12 Media Day, answering questions ranging from who will be the starting quarterback to what will the new philosophy be this season.
Early on in the press conference, Lane Kiffin announced that he would continue to be the play-caller for USC this coming fall. While this decision undoubtedly elicited groans from the fans, the media chose not to harp on it, instead electing to ask about his apparent personality on the field, and if that has an impact on the game.
“I can’t worry about what you guys write about my personality,” Kiffin said, “It’s got nothing to do with winning games and developing players. I care about what the players think because those are the guys I’m dealing with.”
Kiffin is often compared to his predecessor, Pete Carroll, a fan favorite and outgoing person with whom Kiffin is in stark contrast. Though this may bother many outside the program, the head coach defended his colder mannerisms on the sideline.
“You’ve got to make sure you’re not getting emotionally involved in the production of the plays and letting that impact your job. I’ve heard that I don’t have enough emotion or high-five players enough, but that’s done on purpose,” he said. “When your emotions go up, decision-making goes down.”
When he wasn’t talking about himself, Kiffin spoke honestly about recruiting and how the way the season ended impact not only the final composition of the Class of 2013, but also the early stages of recruiting for the Class of 2014.
“I think we’d be naïve not to understand the impact of recruiting this time of year. When you’re preseason number one and you’re coming off of…finishing number five the year before, theres a lot of positive energy outside of your program about your program,” Kiffin said, reflecting on last summer. “We’re in a great place inside of our program, but that doesn’t mean nationally it’s the same thing. Any time you’re winning, that’s going to impact recruiting. I’m sure where our program was viewed 12 months ago and where its viewed now has an impact.”
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This time last year, USC essentially had its Class of 2013 locked up and boasted a Top 5 overall group; going into this fall however, only a handful of guys are in the docket, as the energy around the program has cooled significantly after a 7-6 effort in 2012. But as Kiffin pointed out, it’s still early: “These kids that are committing aren’t signing yet, and we got time to fix that,” he said.
Given the circumstances he inherited, Kiffin feels as if he as done a reasonably good job manning the ship. He acknowledges that his plan has not exactly gone the way he envisioned, but upon assessing the severity of the penalties the NCAA handed down, USC hasn’t exactly burned to the ground, either.
“You’re gonna have juniors leaving. Unfortunately you’re gonna have kids not make it in the program. It’s just the law of averages. It hasn’t gone perfect but I think if we look back three years ago knowing what the penalties were, I think we have done a pretty good job,” Kiffin said firmly.
Though the 2012 campaign was an unmitigated disaster, the 2011 one was a significant accomplishment for USC. Immediately after having been handed some of the most severe sanctions in NCAA history, the Trojans posted a 10-2 run and did so defiantly in the face of naysayers. All things considered, USC hasn’t floundered where other programs might have.
“I believe we’re still relevant in college football. Where a lot of people maybe would have said we wouldn’t have been,” Kiffin said.
Still, the head coach knows there is much to be done to rectify the problems from last season and to prove he has the chops to lead the Trojans to victory. It started with replacing his father, Monte Kiffin, with new Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast, a coach that brings a fresh, competitive new edge to the defense. Not only that, but he said the Trojans have been working on bolstering the strength of the offensive line–one of the weakest elements of USC’s game in 2012–and developing a running back game that is more than just average.
“Any time if you’re in a pro style system and you can’t efficiently run the ball, it really impacts your entire game and really, your entire team. A common theme in where we went wrong last year was in critical situations, an inability to consistently run the ball.”
“I looked at it as if we can fix those things, we’ll be a lot better team, and a lot harder to beat,” he said.
Kiffin still has a long way to go to regain the trust of the Trojan family, and it seems that he is keenly aware of it though one would never see that kind of emotion written all over his face. With some of the pressure off USC this season, it might be more conducive for USC to succeed again, much like it did in 2011.
In two weeks, the Trojans will begin fall camp and with it, will begin their long 14-week road to redemption.