Kiffin and USC strive for drama-free 2013 season

By Ralph D. Russo

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 13 2013 3:45 p.m. MDT

"The way that I think of it in a positive way is we're going to learn from it," Kiffin said. "That can't happen again. But we're not going to change everything because prior to that game (a 39-36 loss at Arizona on Oct. 27) we had won 17 of the previous 20 games. We were 17-3 in the middle of sanctions, probation, reduced roster. All those things going on, we're winning 17 of 20 games. We're doing something right."

But during those last two months of last season, "Everything that could go wrong went wrong," he adds.

And with the losses, came drama. That always seems to be the case with Kiffin.

His 20-game run in the NFL ended with then-Raiders owner Al Davis calling him a liar and firing him with cause. While Kiffin clearly wasn't the solution, a decades' worth of futility in Oakland suggests he was far from the only problem with the Raiders.

A couple of months later, Kiffin landed at Tennessee, a fading program in the midst of an awkward breakup with longtime coach Phillip Fulmer.

Kiffin managed to tick off most of the Southeastern Conference, talking trash and pushing the envelope in recruiting as he tried to pump some life into the Vols.

They did get better under Kiffin, going 7-6, but he turned out to be one and done. He couldn't resist the temptation to return to USC, where he was offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll, and replace his mentor. He left behind NCAA violations and a thoroughly ticked off fan base in Knoxville.

He hasn't exactly been embraced by the USC faithful, skeptical of his credentials and exasperated at time by his actions.

In three seasons with USC, he's been fined by the Pac-12 for criticizing officials, battled the local media over access to practice and the reporting of injuries and had special teamers switch jerseys to run trick plays against overmatched Colorado.

So, of course, when it was revealed that a USC team manager under-inflated the footballs for last year's Oregon game, Lane got blamed again even though there was no evidence he had anything do with it.

"He's the anti-Teflon coach," Haden said. "Stuff sticks to him that's not even his fault. He gets blamed for earthquakes and wildfires."

Around USC they call it the Kiffin Effect.

"That is frustrating because I know a completely different person from what a lot of people assume that he is," said Layla Kiffin, Lane's wife. "But then you ask the team and you ask the parents that know him, and they all can say the same things I do. He is personable. And he is funny. And he's extremely smart. He's very gifted and talented at what he does.

"It wasn't that he's spoiled and his dad groomed him to be what he is. I understand why he gets the criticism, but there's so much more to him."

Haden didn't hire Kiffin, he inherited him from former AD Mike Garrett, who was pushed out after the NCAA hammered USC.

"I've come to appreciate Lane," Haden said. "You can't ask for a guy who's going to work harder and be more dedicated."

Haden said Kiffin has been "nothing but compliant," when it comes to NCAA regulations. The team has done well academically and off-the-field issues have been minimal, he added.

Haden called Kiffin a very good recruiter and good play caller.

"I think he's maturing as a coach," Haden said. "I don't think the reality is anywhere near the perception of being aloof, arrogant. Confident, yes. I love confidence."

And Haden said Kiffin has taken full responsibility for last year's fade.

"He looked at everything. What does he need to change. What does he need to do different," Haden said.

Kiffin is 25-13 at USC while dealing a two-year bowl ban and the loss of 30 scholarships over three years.

"I think he's been as good as he can be," Haden said. "The NCAA didn't give us these sanctions to keep us winning. We're working our way through them. You have to grade (Kiffin) a little bit on the curve."

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