If USC had just lived up to expectations in 2012, issues such as deflated footballs and uniform number swaps and the coaches’ poll imbroglio and media brouhahas would’ve been minor hassles on the way to bigger and better things.
The Trojans didn’t, and those issues were magnified in a six-loss season that culminated with an embarrassing performance in — and after — the Sun Bowl. It was the worst finish ever for a preseason No. 1, with seemingly everyone calling for the boot to be applied to head coach Lane Kiffin‘s backside.
Everyone, that is, except for athletic director Pat Haden, who very publicly proclaimed back in late November he is “150-percent” behind the embattled coach. Two months later, Haden’s stance hasn’t shifted much if at all.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Los Angeles Times, Haden once again stood firmly behind Kiffin as USC’s coach, although he jokingly allowed that his support might have dipped into the “137.5 percent” range.
“I understand people disagree with me,” Haden said of his continued support for the coach. “But in my judgment, and I get paid to make the best decisions I can for USC, there’s no reason that Lane Kiffin shouldn’t be our coach. …
“These are things that all can be fixed. And they all can be fixed by Lane Kiffin.”
One of those fixes was “parting ways” with Kiffin’s father, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, at season’s end. Thus far, though, Kiffin is holding onto his beloved offensive play-calling duties, a source of criticism that Haden acknowledges and hints could be hampering the team as a whole even as its considered by the AD to be one of Kiffin’s strengths.
“Sometimes when you’re calling plays… you don’t sense maybe the whole team,” Haden explained. “So I think he has to really sense the whole team and feel and have the relationship with the whole team.”
As for Kiffin’s future with the program, Haden gave a curt “I’m not answering that question” when asked what it would take for the coach to keep his job. Suffice to say, it’ll take more than a seven-win season to keep the critics at bay. It also wouldn’t hurt Kiffin if the off-field issues slowed to a trickle in the coming months, although even Haden knows that may be easier said than done given the reputation his coach earned over the past several years.
“His reputation, it’s going to be really hard to sanitize that over time unless he kind of wins a lot of games and does things right, which we plan to do,” Haden said.
“He’s anti-Teflon. I mean, stuff sticks to him that doesn’t even belong on him.”