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Is USC's Lane Kiffin really Mr. Misconduct, or just misunderstood?

The USC coach's bad reputation has reached epic proportions — and is out of proportion with reality. His father Monte Kiffin, the Trojans' assistant head coach, only wishes people could see the young man he knows so well.

August 23, 2010|T.J. Simers

There are so many people who intensely dislike Lane Kiffin, so I thought I'd better check with Monte Kiffin to see if it's unanimous.

It seems he loves the kid. Imagine that.

It's obvious, though, dad didn't spend enough garage time with the kid, whose first name is also Monte.

Back in the day when Monte coached in Buffalo, Minnesota and Green Bay and one of his three youngsters caused a problem, dad and child would go to the garage for a private chat because standing outside was not an option.

Monte says he took young Lane to the garage on more than one occasion, and while no surprise, one wonders now if the kid was wearing ear muffs?

The kid all grown up now, this country is filled with people who think he's still nothing but a punk, even dad admittedly excited when he looks at the ESPN scrawl and doesn't see his son's name.

"I kind of like to go home at night and relax,'' he says.

DAN PATRICK had Peyton Manning on his radio show Monday morning, asking Manning in a voice that suggested---oh boy, folks, here it comes---what would he say to Lane Kiffin.

Manning replied, "It'd probably be a short conversation,'' giving Patrick exactly the ha-ha cheap shot he wanted before Manning went on to say something sensible about Tennessee fans believing their school is not a stepping stone to get a better job.

The damage was done, though, Kiffin still the butt of national ridicule, everyone reminded again that even someone as nice as Peyton doesn't want much to do with the lout.

Kiffin continues to be reviled in sports circles like few others, everyone seemingly in agreement he's another gaffe waiting to happen, but ask the question, what's the very worst thing he's done, and almost always the answer is silence.

Those who try to explain, sputter something about recruiting violations they cannot specify, the arrogant way he comes across or his obvious lack of loyalty.

There are some who suggest he did Al Davis wrong, and while anyone who can do that with a straight face needs to be locked up, I wonder if there has ever been a bigger misconception of someone than what we now have in Lane Kiffin?

Tell me he's boring, and I agree. "Vanilla,'' is the way people put it who know him best. His stone face offers little insight, and if there's any warmth there, it's well-hidden, or guarded.

He's so quiet at practice they say, no one can say for sure whether he's there.

And this is the lightning rod that has inspired such derision across the country?

THE ANNUAL Salute to Troy was Sunday night, a large group of boosters in attendance, and daddy Kiffin hoping folks might get a good look at the kid he knows.

A few weeks ago the kid took a (ridiculous) hit for wearing sunglasses on Pac 10 Media Day, word spreading on the Internet of yet another example of Kiffin's arrogance at play.

When it came time to talk Sunday night, Lane noticed that new AD Pat Haden was wearing sunglasses, and playfully told everyone Haden could do so, but he was going to take his off.

"I was so happy to see him lighten up,'' says daddy Kiffin, the kid also telling everyone his dad remains just that---his dad and giving him some advice before taking the stage.

"I hear people calling him a jerk, and a cheater and I don't like it,'' Monte says. "He will not cheat, I tell you that. You know who was guilty of the first secondary violation at Tennessee? Me.

"I hadn't been recruiting in 25 years, and I took someone with me to visit a kid the first day and when I told Lane, he said, 'Dad, you can't do that.' I'm learning too.''

Monte is 70, "going on 50,'' he says. "I know 70 year olds going on 90.''

He's been one of the NFL's top defensive minds, turning down a chance to coach the 49ers a decade ago.

"Do you think I'm going to work for a jerk even if it is my son?'' he says. "Coaches talk in this business, and they know who is a good guy or a bad one. If the guy is what everybody says he is, then I'd be the only one working for him.''

Lane's "mouth of the south'' problems began when he suggested Florida's Urban Meyer broke the rules. Kiffin called Meyer to apologize, but down there, where folks have no perspective when it comes to football, football injustice ranks right up there with treason.

"As for jumping ship; USC called him,'' daddy Kiffin says, the folks in Tennessee failing to understand if UCLA can beat the Volunteers so easily the past two years, there's no way they can be considered in the same class as USC.

"Lane has said some things he wishes he could take back,'' Monte says. "But who doesn't make mistakes?''

He's been given three opportunities now most folks in his line of work never get at such an age, and while there have been errors in judgment, his lack of experience showing, there's been no bloodshed or other heinous acts to suggest he should be one of the most lambasted figures in sports today.

"I've known him for 35 years from the start in the hospital,'' daddy Kiffin says, "and I think if you get to spend time with him and get to know him, you'll love him, too.''

They try to read this down in Tennessee, and I suspect they will have to find a relative out of state to read it to them, they'll probably tell you Lane has only one fan. His dad.

It's a pretty good start.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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