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Lane Kiffin claims no knowledge of alleged violation

Yahoo Sports says Willie Mack Garza, while an assistant to Kiffin at Tennessee, paid for a prospect's unofficial visit to Knoxville in 2009. Garza resigned from USC before start of season.

September 27, 2011|By Gary Klein
  • USC Coach Lane Kiffin says he had no knowledge of an incident regarding a former assistant coach allegedly paying a talent scout.
USC Coach Lane Kiffin says he had no knowledge of an incident regarding a… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Lane Kiffin's controversial tenure as Tennessee's football coach continues to shadow him.

The USC head coach said Tuesday he had no knowledge of a former assistant allegedly reimbursing a talent scout for airfare to pay for a Texas prospect's unofficial visit to Tennessee in 2009.

Yahoo Sports reported Monday that former USC assistant Willie Mack Garza, while he was an assistant with the Volunteers, wired $1,500 to Texas-based Will Lyles for an unofficial visit running back Lache Seastrunk and his mother made to Knoxville, Tenn. If true, that would be a violation of NCAA rules.

"All I can say on that is that the alleged incident, I had no knowledge of, or knowledge of a relationship at all," Kiffin said after morning practice. "I have always been committed, wherever we've been, to doing things the right way and cooperating with the NCAA, so that's all I've got on it."

USC recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron, who held the same title at Tennessee in 2009, also said he had no knowledge of a payment made by Garza.

Neither Garza nor Lyles could be reached for comment.

The NCAA has been investigating Lyles' involvement with Oregon and Louisiana State. Seastrunk attended Oregon last year before transferring to Baylor.

NCAA rules allow schools to pay airfare for official visits during a prospect's senior year in high school. However, the report said Seastrunk's trip was taken before his senior year, which would be a violation.

Seastrunk, who is redshirting, was made available to the media upon transferring to Baylor, but an athletic department official said Tuesday he would not be made available again until he is eligible to play.

The Yahoo report said that Lyles met with NCAA investigators in Los Angeles on Aug. 30. Garza resigned his position at USC two days later, on the eve of the Trojans' season opener against Minnesota. In a statement released through the school, Garza said he was leaving because of "personal issues unrelated to USC that I need to address."

Asked Tuesday if it was common practice for assistant coaches to operate on their own without knowledge of the head coach or recruiting coordinator, Kiffin said, "I don't know. I don't know what people do."

Asked if he expected the NCAA to revisit his time at Tennessee, Kiffin said, "That's not for me to judge."

Last summer, the NCAA's Committee on Infractions put Tennessee on probation for failing to monitor and issued a "show-cause order" to former Volunteers basketball coach Bruce Pearl.

The committee found that Kiffin's staff had committed secondary violations but did not levy punishment against Kiffin, who left Tennessee for USC in January 2010.

In light of Lyles' allegations, the NCAA is investigating a new case at Tennessee.

"The NCAA looks into any credible information of potential violations," NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said in a statement. "The NCAA enforcement staff has been reviewing the use of scouting services in the recruiting process and first became aware of potential recruiting violations at the University of Tennessee several weeks ago.

"We will continue to work with the school and [the Southeastern] conference to reach a conclusion."

USC Athletic Director Pat Haden has talked of creating a "culture of compliance" at USC.

"After talking with Coach Kiffin about this, Coach Kiffin said he had no knowledge of what the coach was doing," Haden said.

In regard to possible NCAA scrutiny, Haden said, "We'll deal with it as we have to deal with it."

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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