On Wednesday, USC head coach Lane Kiffin spoke to Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN. The two touched on all of the subjects one might expect following the dumpster-fire that was the Trojans’ 2012 football season.
After opening the season as the nation’s No. 1-ranked team, 2012 was not the year of the Trojans. In fact, while there were several firsts set on the season, just about all of them were of the negative variety.
USC was the first team to finish with six losses after opening the year at No.1 since 1968. Almost shockingly, Kiffin took the blame for the way the season transpired.
“That doesn’t surprise me one bit. … You got to blame somebody, so you’re going to blame the head coach — and you should. I blame myself for this.”
The year proved to be the first time most college football fans had heard of a coach making a player change jersey numbers at halftime in order to fool the competition. And the first time fans had heard of a ball boy deflating game balls without the coach having any knowledge of it whatsoever.
It was the first time USC finished with the aforementioned six losses since 2001, and it was the first time the program lost a bowl game to a team that had needed to petition the NCAA just to get into the Sun Bowl in the first place (Georgia Tech embarrassed mighty Southern Cal, 21-7, in the Sun Bowl).
Kiffin’s athletic director, Pat Haden, calls these relatively small but repeated transgressions as “The Kiffin Factor”, which is basically like telling a nine-year old that it’s ok to get detention once a week as long as his homework is done and he is getting good grades.
Except for the fact that Kiffin is not making the grade, so to speak, and now all of his other transgressions, dating back to his time with the Oakland Raiders, have come under a microscope. Kiffin lost 15 of his first 20 games in the NFL before getting canned by owner Al Davis. The son of legendary coordinator Monte then took the head coaching role at Tennessee before high-tailing it out of Knoxville after just one season and leaving several scandals in his wake.
“Why do I feel like I’d be the most polarizing figure?” said Kiffin, phrasing his own question. “I would say it’s got to be a combination of things. It’s got to be mistakes I’ve made as a young head coach going all the way back to Oakland … to mistakes at Tennessee, to mistakes here. So you’re going to pay for mistakes you make along the way, whether you did them on purpose or not.
“No. 2, I would say the preseason buildup. … The buildup of the preseason No. 1. The Heisman Trophy candidate. The All-Americans. Recruiting was going unbelievable — the No. 1 recruiting class. With that hype comes a lot of expectations. When those aren’t met that’s going to fall on the head coach.”
Obviously, Kiffin does not believe he should be so vilified, but he does understand where it comes from. The coach broke into third person in order to better explain from his perspective.
“You start losing games and now you have an issue like, for instance, the deflated ball,” Kiffin said. “I knew nothing about the ball, had never heard anything about it. But because we weren’t playing very well and were starting to lose games — we had just lost two games in a row — now the ball issue is a reflection of Kiffin and all the things bad about Lane Kiffin.
“But if you step back from it and you go, ‘Wait a second. Let me not just look at it from a black and white [perspective]. Let me look at it when I analyze the Kiffin Factor that goes into that.’ OK, don’t do it.”
The problem the coach doesn’t realize, however, is that it is simply not possible to factor out “The Kiffin Factor”, not when the man himself continues to believe that his moral compass is pointed in the right direction. Not when there continues to be such a large gray area to the coach’s ethical values.
Not when the rest of the country is looking at his situation and his record and his actions in a far more black and white manner:
Wins and Losses.