Coaches Lane Kiffin of USC and Jim Mora of UCLA. (Luis Sinco and Gina Ferazzi…)
Our local leather-heads are off to rough training camp starts.
The players are holding up fine under barometric pressures in oppressive heat — the problem is at the leadership level.
Fresh-start Jim Mora, looking to change UCLA's cozy-club culture, took his team to swelter box San Bernardino to get away from all the distractions.
"No friends, no girlfriends, no parents," Mora said.
He should have added "no radio shows."
Mora became the distraction Thursday, a day after going on KLAA-AM (830) to claim UCLA "doesn't have murders a block from campus" a few months after two USC students were slain near campus.
It didn't matter whether Mora's comments were innocent or intended — they were combustible.
Coaches tell players all the time not to compound one mistake with another, yet Mora's first reaction was defensive.
"If anybody is offended by the statement, then that's their insecurity, not mine," he told The Times' UCLA beat reporter, Chris Foster.
WRONG answer, and you knew it later when Mora issued the statement he should have issued first. "I'm sorry if my words caused any pain," Mora said. "That was not my intention."
Three weeks before his first game, Mora insensitively stoked a crosstown rivalry that hasn't been a rivalry since UCLA shocked USC in 2006.
If you were USC, of course, Thursday was a day to get out of the way and not create any unnecessary commotion.
However, USC Coach Lane Kiffin found himself in a snit after USA Today broke the coaches' double-secret confidentiality code and revealed Kiffin's first vote in the newspaper's college football poll.
Kiffin has done a nice job at USC of distancing himself from the lightning-rod image he brought from Tennessee.
He recently said after a practice, "I would not vote USC No. 1, I can tell you that," even though he actually had put USC No. 1 on his list.
The coaches' poll now has a policy of setting records straight when coaches talk one way and vote another.
It was made necessary after 2006 when Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel, who was later fired for lying on a more serious matter, said he voted Texas No. 1 when he actually had Ohio State in that position.
Tressel said then it was a miscommunication and Kiffin said Thursday his comments were misconstrued.
But let's just all agree that having your name mentioned with Jim Tressel these days is not good public relations.
You could accurately opine that the USA Today coaches' poll has been stepping in it for years when it comes to credibility. It also has a history with USC.
In 2003, two dozen coaches were contractually forced to hand their No. 1 votes for USC to the winner of the BCS title game in New Orleans, which didn't have USC in it.
Was Thursday's move by USA Today part of the vendetta against USC? I'm not buying that. But it does further underscore the coaches' potentially poisonous policy.
You'd think after all college football has gone through of late that transparency would always be the right answer. But USA Today coaches have fought hard to keep their drapes closed. It took a five-alarm controversy in 2004 to force the BCS and USA Today to demand that coaches reveal their final ballots.
That was the year Texas and California became embroiled in an ugly voting war over an automatic bid to the Rose Bowl.
Tressel — who else? — then broke the must-reveal edict two years later when, with his team sitting at No. 1, he abstained from choosing Florida or Michigan for the No. 2 spot. Florida edged Michigan for the position and defeated Ohio State in the BCS title game.
The coaches disdain truth-revealing to the point that they commissioned a Gallup survey to confirm they should go back to secret ballots. The BCS, thankfully, would not allow it.
Kiffin's post-practice remarks may have been misconstrued, but here's a simple solution to avoid further confusion: He should simply release his weekly ballot.
Kiffin should post it on USC's website — imagine the traffic it would generate.
The Associated Press poll is open to the public every week. Many writers blog their top 25 and explain, if not defend, their positions.
The best news out of all of this is the coaches' poll will help determine the national championship only two more seasons.
Starting in 2014, a selection committee will decide the top teams in a four-team playoff.
And really, when you think about it, what could go wrong there?