Thursday, July 31, 2014         

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Football will be a welcome diversion for USC's Kiffin

By Ferd Lewis


It is 42 days until the University of Southern California opens the football season against Hawaii and you can just picture Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin marking them down on his desk calendar as we speak: 43 ... 42 ...

...With the offseason he and the Trojans have had, that flight to Honolulu can't depart LAX soon enough.

Just let the games begin already, 'cause the offseason has been torture.

When Kiffin was handed the job by athletic director Mike Garrett in January amid Pete Carroll's well-timed departure, it looked as though Kiffin had just won the California State Lottery.

Now, it looks like somebody played a recurring bad joke on him.

Let's review: In just a little over a month, USC has been slapped with two years of postseason probation and docked 30 scholarships by the NCAA. The Trojans won't be eligible for the USA Today Coaches' Poll in that period, at least four players, including the nation's top offensive line recruit, have left and the Pac-10, UCLA especially, is sporting a smirk as wide as the San Fernando Valley.

And, just to show that things could, indeed, still get worse for Kiffin, the man who hired him, Garrett, has been removed by the incoming president, Max Nikias, who is promising a law-and-order administration.

As proof of it, Pat Haden, a former quarterback and Rhodes scholar, has been installed as the new sheriff in Heritage Hall. This is like going from Sgt. Schultz to Jack McCoy.

And USC's copy of Reggie Bush's Heisman Trophy is being shipped back to the Downtown Athletic Club like so much BP spillage.

Moreover, J.K. McKay, the new AD's best buddy since high school and son of USC's most revered coach, John McKay, is the newly appointed associate athletic director for football. And the school has hired the managing partner in a downtown L.A. law firm to be vice president for athletic compliance.

If you're counting, that's at least three lawyers looking over Kiffin's shoulder that he didn't have a week ago, plus some former FBI agents brought in as consultants.

At least in Kiffin's short and messy head coaching stint with the Oakland Raiders, he only had to answer to Al Davis.

The message on campus can't be lost on Kiffin: If they'll dump one Heisman Trophy winner (Garrett) and pack off another's hallowed Heisman statuette, heaven help the football coach who contorts a few NCAA rules or tries a student body left through an imagined loophole.

For somebody who flew by the seat of his Dockers in his first college head coaching job (Tennessee) and was forced to issue apologies like business cards, this can't be what Kiffin envisioned.

Undoubtedly, this isn't the USC he remembers from that stint as a Trojans assistant under Carroll or what he was banking on when he bailed on Tennessee for supposedly greener, more win-friendly pastures.

Which is why, you suspect, this most cruel of offseasons can't end fast enough and the coming of that Sept. 2 season opener in Halawa must seem like it is traveling by turtle.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@staradvertiser.com.

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