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He's not so sure about this self-assured Trojans coach

Lane Kiffin seems unconcerned about appearances, certain of answers.

July 29, 2010|Bill Plaschke

They were metal mirrored sunglasses, the kind you buy at a drugstore on the way to the beach, standard Angeleno equipment, as noteworthy as sunscreen or sandals.

But when Lane Kiffin stared down from behind them on the Rose Bowl's outdoor stage at Pac-10 media day Thursday — while the conference's other nine coaches removed their shades — they were reflections of a reputation.

What is he hiding? Who is he hiding?

"Oh, c'mon," said Kiffin with a grin. "I took the sunglasses off during my first seven TV interviews because I thought somebody might think there was a message behind them, but then I just got up on stage and forgot."

He laughed. "Which coach is going up there next? Maybe I'll get them to wear sunglasses and everything will be OK."

Meet your new USC coach, a moving target who will be scrutinized on everything from his hair ("Does he color it?") to his dramatic diction (is he trying too hard to sound like a football coach?) to his metallic stare.

Not all of it is fair. But all of it is real. Yet Kiffin's first official press scrum of the 2010 football season featured a guy who seems blissfully unconcerned about appearances, and absolutely certain of answers.

"It's real easy," he said, dramatically pausing. "Win games. When you win games, they like you, no matter how you go about it. When you lose games, they don't, no matter how you go about it."

Seeing as your new boss, Pat Haden, is as much about integrity as victories, is that really the right thing to say?

"You can say everything correct, go 6-6, see how much they like you," said Kiffin, smiling again.

Meet a former Oakland Raiders head coach who has obviously not lost the Oakland Raiders mantra. It lives in Kiffin, who seems to care about reputation only if it interferes with results.

Even though he has a history of rule-breaking, he fudges even the silliest of rules in hiring an assistant coach from the NFL. Even though he is perceived as arrogant, he is the only coach to wear sunglasses while conducting interviews on a bright July day.

"You're going to live with your past," he said, shrugging. "I've been controversial in the past. It is what it is."

Meet the guy who seems to be the perfect USC football hire — when the athletic department was run by Mike Garrett. Now? What, Kiffin worry?

"I could see where somebody in this situation could be nervous, but I've known Pat, he's a Trojan, he's not a former athletic director coming from somewhere else with a list of other guys he's tried to hire, we get along just fine," Kiffin said.

I'm not sure if the guy can coach college football, but he sure knows how to stay in his stance.

Just because he's been painted as perhaps the most nationally disliked coach in college football doesn't mean he, like, cares.

"I don't like it, I don't want it to happen, but it doesn't bother me, it doesn't worry me or keep me up late at night," he said. "Either we win a lot and everyone is going to like it, or we lose a lot and everyone is going to say, 'I told you so.' "

Just because he has been here only six months and already embroiled his team in a lawsuit filed by the Tennessee Titans involving the alleged tampering over assistant coach Kennedy Pola, well, that doesn't mean he's worried about either losing the case or making his new boss mad.

Of the case: "In my opinion, I don't think the lawsuit has anything to do with time frame…. I think it has to do with the location of the team in the lawsuit," he said, saying that the Titans are trying to endear themselves to those jilted University of Tennessee fans.

Of his boss: "He wasn't pleased, nor was I. But he was well aware of every step of this…. He knew the timeline of events, none of that was a surprise," he said of Haden's response.

There are times it seems Kiffin is truly trying to change his image. He said Thursday he showed the Trojans a film of last year's many personal fouls and cheap shots, accompanied by a warning.

"We don't do that here," he told them.

He has also promised, in virtually every sweeping statement about his goals, to run a clean program, at least giving lip service to overcoming his past flaws.

But then there are times when he just can't get out of his own way.

His final word to Trojans fans about the Tennessee controversy? It's a message that will likely resonate throughout his career here.

Buckle up and hang on.

"We've been here six months … this was the first little bump," he said. "I wish it didn't happen, but it is what it is."

A little bump here. A little bump there. Get used it.

Fight On, meet your new coach. Guy by the name of Just Win, Baby.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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