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.
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
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.