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USC's Lane Kiffin says rest of the Pac-10 is rooting for him this week

Kiffin for the most part keeps it light while trying to distance himself from his old reputation of being a loose cannon. He also says Matt Barkley will play against UCLA.

November 30, 2010|T.J. Simers

Sat down with USC Coach Lane Kiffin on Tuesday. Told him it was time to stop being boring, and maybe give everyone a little of the Kiffin we heard about before he arrived, and tell us what he really thinks of Rick Neuheisel.

"So you want me to be like our team, which has taken the lead into the second half of 11 of 12 games and then blow it all in the end," says the Boy Scout as we know him here.

He begins to praise Neuheisel, ignoring Page 2's interruptions and protests, while concluding, "They need to give him more time."

I remind him if he were talking about Florida's Urban Meyer, he wouldn't be so nice, and he says, "But we're not."

Interpret that as you like.

"Norm Chow will be available," I suggest. "Any interest in hiring him?"

"We'd be very lucky to have Norm on our staff, but we have no openings," he says in a voice that could put a room of newborns to sleep.

I tell him I'm worried, spotting John Robinson on campus and wondering if USC, which takes defeat to Notre Dame very hard, is already making a change in head coaches.

He's asked if he has checked his answering machine lately, and he admits Mike Garrett's name crosses his mind, but somehow he keeps his mouth shut.

Finally, the right button is pushed when he's asked how devastating it might be to his reputation if Neuheisel wins and he doesn't Saturday.

"I've been called by two Pac-10 coaches," he says with a smirk. "I won't tell you their names, but they called me to say, 'Please don't let him win this game.' ''

I guess "Sark," former USC assistant Steve Sarkisian, who is now the head coach at Washington.

"I won't mention names," Kiffin repeats, "but if you called all the other seven coaches [in the Pac-10] they would probably say the same thing."

Yowza, I knew he could do it. Now maybe everyone here will better appreciate the laugh that Tennessee basketball Coach Bruce Pearl was going for Monday.

Pearl has been suspended for eight games for violating NCAA rules, but he spoke to the Knoxville Quarterback Club.

"I've made mistakes, I clearly did," Pearl tells the group. "But what I was hoping for was that some other dumbass would get on the front page and take me off the hook.

"I miss Lane Kiffin."

The Knoxville News reports "the room erupted with laughter" at the mention of the former Tennessee football coach.

"Bruce is really smart," Kiffin says. "I can understand why he wouldn't want to talk about not being able to coach and violations, so he mentions Lane Kiffin. And everyone claps."

That's the guy they know down there, but up here mention Kiffin's name and it's hard to say what reaction his name might elicit. We still don't really know him.

I maintain he's a hidden gem — smart, colorful and engaging but purposely muted to give Athletic Director Pat Haden, who didn't hire him, a chance to warm up to him.

How good a coach is he? His offense scores two touchdowns in the last two games, and Kiffin says, "And one of those came on a two-yard drive and we needed four plays to score."

He's like that more often than not, bitingly critical of his own work, but also quick with the quip.

"Who gets the $5 fine Dillon Baxter paid?" I ask.

"Charity," Kiffin says. "The charity of his choice."

And what would that be?

"Gas-free golf carts," Kiffin says.

If he could, he would always go for the funny line, but he understands he's still in the process of distancing himself from the old Kiffin, the one so maligned and maybe misjudged elsewhere.

"I continue to be boring here," he says, "following the theme of our offense the last two weeks."

He's asked if Matt Barkley will play against UCLA, and says he will — surprisingly an immediate, direct answer, while adding, "Notice, I didn't say, like I normally do, 'I hope he'll play.' ''

I see he later adjusts his remarks to other reporters (mischievously). Whatever it takes to keep the Bruins guessing.

As it is, the Trojans are 7-5, "and this season has definitely been a failure," he says. "To have the winning streak stopped against Notre Dame, that's the most disappointing thing of all.

"One of the NCAA sanctions now is going to be our games last only 58 minutes because we don't have enough players on scholarship to finish a game off. If they kept the stat, we would lead the nation in points given up in the final two minutes. It's ridiculous."

He might be more critical than any columnist in town. But he promises, when the season is over, "We're going to work 25 hours a day to make sure this doesn't happen again."

When it's suggested 25 hours a day might be an NCAA violation, he laughs. He does that a lot, although when doing most of his radio and TV interviews he comes across like someone who has just fired his father.

That's a story for another day, this week dedicated to UCLA, the Bruins pulling off the 13-9 shocker a few years back to cost USC a shot at the national title.

"Sark called those plays," Kiffin says. "I think my wife was in labor, I wasn't there — just didn't tell anyone."

He's kidding, of course and knows it can't go that way this time. Or he will be letting down his fellow Pac-10 coaches.

SETTING ASIDE GM Ned Colletti's affinity for signing fat players, the Kansas City Royals sign players like journeyman Juan Uribe, not the Dodgers. The Royals try to make it appear as if they have done something grand by adding someone who came up big during the postseason. The Royals have no choice but to fake out their fans.

The Dodgers should be better than that.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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