Somebody let the air out of USC football -- literally.
A student manager has been relieved of his duties for helping to further deflate a program that once imposed its will on the opposition with broad-daylight sweeps called "Student Body Left" and "Student Body Right."
USC's secret weapon never used to be the eye needle of a tire pump. USC had non-secret weapons named Charles White, Marcus Allen, Ronnie Lott and Anthony Munoz. It was the program of "here's what we're going to do, you try to stop it."
The Trojans have gone from strong-in-the-pocket to pick-pockets.
The philosophy of John McKay and John Robinson has been given over to Lane Kiffin's Merry Pranksters.
Now, it has been made clear that USC did not tacitly approve or condone the student manager deflating several footballs during last Saturday's 62-51 loss to Oregon.
I'm not quite sure what deflating your own footballs gets you, but apparently it helped USC quarterbacks and receivers get a better grip.
The wise-guy manager would have been smarter to lock the defense in the team room or puncture the tires on Oregon's team bus.
The problem here is Kiffin arrived on campus with a reputation for working the margins when it came to things such as rules and ethics. His past followed him from the Oakland Raiders to Tennessee and from Tennessee to Heritage Hall.
This is the kind of stuff that made Kiffin a pariah in the Southeastern Conference and drew investigators to his front door. It was the nickel-and-crime sort of nonsense Pat Haden and J.K. McKay, two pillars from the past, were hired to suppress.
The little things in life can add up to big things. Kiffin's in-box is crammed with little things. He plays footsie with the cross-over line and sometimes the truth. He manipulates uniform numbers to within an inch of the spirit of the rule. He likes confusing opponents by lining up in off-balance formations on extra points.
Kiffin said in the summer he wouldn't vote his team No. 1 in the coach's poll (brilliant observation in hindsight) but actually did vote USC No. 1. He stormed off the field in a huff when a reporter asked him an honest question about an injured player.
Until the evidence proves otherwise, we will have to trust the student manager in this latest caper came up with this idea on his own.
At best, it seems the culture Kiffin created might have provided the kid some edge-seeking motivational cover.
USC is bigger than this. It used to be the flagship program of the Pacific Rim. It did not need trickery to succeed. The Trojans have access to the finest players in the country and play in a historic venue dedicated to gladiators.
For USC to become USC again it needs to ditch the sophomoric approach and find some senior leadership.
How about deflating an opposing team by making a tackle?
USC definitely needs to get a better grip, for sure, but it starts at the top and not with the ball.
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