Just minutes after stepping to the podium following Saturday’s 23-14 victory
over Utah, USC coach Lane Kiffin was confronted with a reporter’s question regarding the “controversial” on-field interview he gave a week earlier, in which he said USC only had two good players on offense.
The question had nothing to do with the outcome of the Trojans’ most recent game, nor was it related to any storylines leading up to tomorrow’s showdown with Syracuse. Yet not a single person batted an eye in the crowded L.A. Coliseum media room, because after all, we’ve come to accept the subtle vilification of Kiffin, even if it comes without logic or reason.
Kiffin’s well-documented past will never be erased, as it remains an essential part of his coaching narrative.
His brief stint in Knoxville, Tenn., was highlighted by brash guarantees, off-the-cuff remarks and childish behavior unbefitting of a college football head coach.
But presently, it’s clear to anyone who has truly followed his cross-country journey to Los Angeles that he is not that same guy he was two years ago.
Though he continues to praise senior tailback Marc Tyler for his redemption story, the true Hollywood transformation lies within the coach himself.
Not too long ago he was the crass, entitled punk of the SEC, whose naivety showed through in endless ESPN reels and Internet videos.
These days, he is a shell of his former self.
Kiffin 2.0 is a man methodical in his delivery, carefully crafting every noun, verb and adjective, so that it comes off with a sense of class and genuine humility. Call it manufactured if you like; I’d prefer mature.
It’s funny that media and fans alike continue to overlook his growth as a coach, simply because that story isn’t eye-grabbing or sexy nowadays.
As the football coach at a prestigious university like USC, there should be no sense of accomplishment for the mere fact that he can now respectfully handle media obligations.
But taking into consideration what he stepped into and where he came from, his progress, from a communication standpoint, should not go unnoticed.
Granted, he will never charm the pants off of fans or fill up a post-practice press conference with a quote book full of sound bites like his predecessor.
If you are looking for a grand motivator, one who can yell and scream in the locker room only to come out all smiles for the media, the introverted Kiffin will never be that guy.
It’s time we stop trying to mold him into that kind of figure.
Sure, he signed up for the microscopic knit-picking that goes on with every move he makes, whether its on a two-point conversion or on what color visor to wear.
Sure, regardless of the scrutiny he faces, Kiffin will still admit this is his ultimate dream job.
Yet, why does it feel like we are all so intent on turning his dream into a living nightmare every time he veers from the pristine coaching model?
It’s often the media’s job to find the most interesting angle on a story, even if to the naked eye that angle doesn’t appear to exist.
It’s that magical element that sells stories and promotes websites to Trojan supporters who clamor with baited breath at even the slightest bit of behind-the-scenes scoop.
But what if that angle truly doesn’t exist when it comes to the portrayal of Kiffin?
Maybe he is truly content this time around showering the media with bland commentary and straight-forward responses instead of the air of confidence he so readily displayed at Tennessee.
This approach might not sell T-shirts or make airwaves, but he didn’t come to USC to serve as a central fodder figure for beat writers and talking heads alike — he came to coach.
Kiffin’s newfound persona makes him an easy target when he does misstep from time to time, but it takes an awful lot to ignore the typical cat-and-mouse antics coaches and reporters so often play with one another.
“Usually the people writing the negative stuff don’t know me at all,” Kiffin said in a recent interview with ESPN.com. “I think people that don’t know me, it’s almost like they don’t believe I’m human.”
Though I have never broken bread or shared a heartfelt conversation with the man, I can confirm he is in fact human.
My only hope is that we all can start to treat him as such.
“For The Love Of The Game” runs every other Friday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org.