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CHRIS DUFRESNE ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Does Lane Kiffin come to USC at infraction of the cost?

The Trojans' new coach is young and dynamic but also brings NCAA rules-violation baggage from Tennessee. An already troubled USC program can't afford a misstep by Pete Carroll's successor.

January 13, 2010|Chris Dufresne

USC hired Lane Kiffin to replace Pete Carroll on a jail-break Tuesday and two of the happiest guys on earth, not counting Kiffin, are Trojans Athletic Director Mike Garrett and Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive.

Garrett pulled a Usain Bolt fast one.

Pardon us for not considering that a program on the brink of probation would hire a guy who spent his one and lonely 7-6 year at Tennessee getting his hand slapped by the SEC schoolmarm for his brazen disregard for the minor details of a governing body's operating manual.

And now he'll be matched in town against UCLA's Rick Neuheisel -- who wrote the book on not going by the book, to the tune of 50-odd (some of them very) secondary violations while he was at Colorado.

And now these two bright, young, innovative coaches will meet on the field next season -- both possibly on "Animal House" double-secret probation.

Slive, the Deputy Dog of the SEC, looked droopy-eyed and five years older when I saw him in the Rose Bowl press box before last week's Bowl Championship Series title game. Some of that strain had to do with hall-monitoring Kiffin.

Young Lane had not hung all the pictures in his office last winter when he accused Florida Coach Urban Meyer of cheating. Kiffin was wrong, had to apologize, and Slive pulled out a manila folder and started a file.

Slive also issued a reprimand in October after the Vols coach criticized the officials following the Tennessee-Alabama game.

Kiffin had an interesting year. He was cited for six minor NCAA violations -- parking tickets that can add up to major violations.

One infraction was for disclosing the name of an unsigned recruit on his Twitter account.

Oops.

Another involved setting up news press conferences for prospects.

Oops.

In December, the NCAA launched an investigation into the program's use of school hostesses for recruiting.

Kiffin was referred to in one Florida newspaper headline as "Lane Violation." Others called him the "Boy Blunder."

Kiffin did and said a lot of these outrageous things to stir things up; you know the old motto -- there's no such thing as bad publicity.

Well, sometimes there is.

In November, Kiffin had to dismiss two of three Tennessee players involved in a botched armed robbery attempt at a local convenience store -- those darn kids.

Kiffin did not endear himself to many in the SEC, but he wasn't down there to share a plate of grits.

Tennessee played Florida tougher than anyone expected in Gainesville, losing, 23-13, and the Vols might have defeated Alabama in October if not for nose tackle Terrence Cody's blocking two field-goal tries in a two-point Crimson Tide win. Tennessee won four of its last five games to finish 7-5 and earn a matchup against Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A-Bowl.

At a luncheon before the Dec. 31 game in Atlanta, Kiffin was asked the most difficult part of being a head coach these days.

"Following all the rules," Kiffin said, trying to loosen up the room.

Once the kid co-coordinator under Carroll at USC, Kiffin's chops as a head coach are still on the block. He was 5-15 in 1 1/4 disastrous seasons with the Oakland Raiders, departing with owner Al Davis calling him "an outright liar."

It should be noted: Kiffin, as a head coach, has already suffered a home loss to UCLA, losing to the Bruins in September.

The introduction to his bio in Tennessee's bowl guide reads: "Head Coach Lane Kiffin's plan for renewal of Tennessee's football fortunes continues its steady but powerful march."

It was a powerful march all right -- a John Philip Sousa number right out the door.

There were only a handful of coaches out there who you thought had the gumption to walk out on their programs this late in the recruiting season.

Oregon State's Mike Riley wasn't one of them -- but Kiffin was.

Exit question: Can you go on probation while you're on probation?

You bet, and in the worst way. If USC football is sanctioned for major violations this spring, and then commits a second major within five years of that violation, it is subject to receiving the NCAA's death penalty, which could shut down the program for at least a year.

Not to say that's going to happen -- we're just going over the ground rules.

The fascinating news today is that Kiffin is back in L.A., he's bringing back "that old gang of mine" from the Carroll regime, and the NCAA infractions committee is meeting in February.

Maybe it can roll the USC and Tennessee investigations into one case.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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