He's doing it again. Lane Kiffin, I mean. He's acting like Lane Kiffin, when he promised a few months ago that he was done doing that -- and ready to act like an adult.
But, no. He's the same Lane Kiffin he was at Tennessee, maybe worse, because at Tennessee he was a rambunctious kid still finding his way, knocking over tables and lamps but only because he was a big goofball who didn't seem to know better -- whereas now, at Southern California, he's flipping over furniture and rewiring the lamps in a misguided attempt to keep the rest of us in the dark.
He's cheating, is my point. Or his program is. And since the chain of command at USC football starts with Lane Kiffin, he's responsible. He's using ignorance as his defense on some of this stuff, but that's a life raft that won't float on these seas.
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He isn't stupid. And while I'm sure he's an innocent victim from time to time, this is what I believe: If there's a mess, and Lane Kiffin is in the vicinity, odds are he made it. That's what he deserves.
This is what he did:
Before the Trojans played Oregon on Saturday, a USC student-manager deflated the footballs to be used in the game -- a modification that makes it easier for a quarterback to throw. The Trojans' only shot at keeping up with Oregon's prolific (and mostly rushing-oriented) offense was by passing, and sure enough USC quarterback Matt Barkley threw for 484 yards and five touchdowns. His numbers were even crazier in the first half, before game officials fixed all the balls: 303 yards and three touchdowns.
The Pac-12 reprimanded and fined USC, but the school -- Kiffin, really, since this is his program -- is acting like the football deflation was the act of a rogue student-manager.
Kind of like at California two years ago, when Cal players were flopping like fish to slow down Oregon's offense. Cal blamed the tactic on a rogue assistant coach -- not head coach Jeff Tedford, who claimed to know nothing about it.
But enough about that responsibility-shirking coach, and back to this one. To Kiffin, who keeps doing this stuff after assuring the world -- and assuring me, in particular -- that he was a changed man. Hell, more than that, he assured the world (and me) that his clumsiness at Tennessee was calculated, that it was intentional buffoonery designed to keep Tennessee in the headlines and therefore on the minds of recruits nationwide.
At a recruiting powerhouse like Southern California, Kiffin told me in July, he wouldn't need such silliness. As for the Lane Kiffin we knew and disliked at Tennessee in 2009? Even Lane Kiffin disliked that guy.
"I was an idiot," he said. "If I'm an athletics director or a general manager [in 2009], I'm thinking, 'What is that idiot doing?' I wouldn't want anything to do with that guy."
That's what he told me in July, and I fell for it. Gobbled it up like a grouper on grunt-fish. Decided, did I, that while I didn't like Tennessee Lane Kiffin, USC Lane Kiffin was different. Different program, different circumstances, different guy. That was his story, and I stuck to it.
And stuck to it. And stuck to it ...
In August, Kiffin lied about voting his team No. 1 in the coaches poll, and then he stopped visiting teams from making their customary Coliseum walk-thru the day before a game. In September he tried to ban a reporter from attending games because that reporter wrote (accurately) about an injured USC player. One week later Kiffin petulantly stormed off 29 seconds into a press conference because he didn't like a question.
Not a peep out of me. Even when Kiffin had a player change jersey numbers against Colorado -- and then used that player on a trick play -- I let it go. Shame on me for that, by the way.
But I was serious about giving this Lane Kiffin, USC Lane, a chance.
No more. Enough's enough. Lane Kiffin is the same guy he was at Tennessee, only worse, because he isn't just saying stupid stuff. At Tennessee he was a buffoon, but now he's a bad guy. Changing jersey numbers against Colorado was technically a gray-area move by Kiffin, one that might not have broken a specific rule in the NCAA rulebook -- but is cited as the first example in a section of the NCAA rulebook called "Coaching Ethics:"
The following are unethical practices:
A. "Changing numbers during the game to deceive the opponent."
Black and white, right there.
Now, this. The deflated football. Again, Kiffin's story is that the footballs were deflated by a student-manager, unbeknownst to Kiffin or anyone on his staff. What kind of coach would be so finicky and so unethical as to let a small amount of air out of the football?
Probably the kind who would be so finicky, and so unethical, as to have a player change jersey numbers for an easy two points against outmatched Colorado.
Lane Kiffin hasn't changed a bit from his days at Tennessee. Well, wait. Yes he has.
Lane Kiffin is worse.