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T.J. Simers

USC's Lane Kiffin is doing fine, paranoia and all

Trojans football coach has a great mind for the game, but sometimes that reality is lost in his whining and immature behavior.

October 10, 2012|T.J. Simers

My favorite TV show is "The Mentalist."

I think Patrick Jane is just the greatest, so flippant and smart and capable of saying the most outrageous things at any moment.

"Remind you of anyone?" I'm asking Lane Kiffin on Tuesday morning while mentioning the show.

I think Lane Kiffin is capable of greatness, too, while also having it in him to say or do the most outrageous thing and negate any chance of really being great.

I also think Grace Van Pelt is just the greatest, but that's leering for another time.

We're talking Lane Kiffin here, and while he probably considers himself just as pretty, you have to admit he looks better now than you thought he would after hearing of his controversial stay in Tennessee.

There's a statue of John McKay standing a few feet from where Kiffin and I are sitting. Paul Hackett's likeness, I presume, is on the other side of the building.

McKay, at 38, was 8-11-1 after two years as coach at USC before finding his stride.

Kiffin is 37, in his third year at USC and 22-8 under NCAA sanctions, which is akin in college football to being harassed by Red John.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you don't watch "The Mentalist" or you are probably a UCLA football fan and your team doesn't cheat. It just loses with regularity.

Now while most folks aren't quite sure what to make of USC this season, a few things have happened the last few weeks that bode well for Kiffin's run at greatness.

His team lost to Stanford, and while not highly recommended for achieving greatness, I think it's just generally understood that USC loses to Stanford every year.

"I did not do a good job with Stanford when things were not going well,'' says Kiffin, and it's not like anyone is going to argue with him, but he pauses anyway.

"I did not do a good job in giving better answers to the quarterback when there were problems. And I said to myself after the Stanford game I will improve there and will have the answers the next time things go wrong.''

And they did — against California and then again against Utah, but Kiffin graduated from offensive coordinator to become the team's head coach.

"That's why we came out and ran the ball in the second half against Cal,'' he explains. "I took a look at the big picture and understood what we could do on defense.

"And instead of burying my head into my play sheet, I knew I had to exude confidence to these players. That's where I screwed up against Stanford.

"I was an offensive coordinator at halftime against Stanford, looking for some way to find first downs or points. I was an offensive coordinator and head coach at halftime against Cal and Utah. And I think what happened against Utah was great for the growth of this team.''

It probably helps the Bruins, too. Utah's expectations were raised with the Trojans' early mistakes and UCLA is probably going to get the letdown Utes this Saturday.

As solid as Kiffin already is, he's always going to be the good recruiter and have one of the best offensive brains in the land. And USC is going to give him everything he needs to be consistently successful.

The only one who can take him down is Lane Kiffin, the guy who still has an occasional hankering to court distractions.

It's nothing major so far, a needless lie about a USA Today poll, a media spat over injuries, a quick walk off stage when irritated with a question.

"I'm always willing to look at my actions, and do them better,'' Kiffin says. "I make mistakes, and sometimes in split seconds. Then seconds later I know how wrong I was.''

But it's the hint of paranoia thrown in there at times, everyone seemingly intent on tearing him and USC down as Kiffin sees it, which seems so unnecessary.

"I deal with these 75 scholarship and walk-on players and control things really well here in this building. As well as how they think and what their performances really mean,'' Kiffin says. "In general, I do not feel the media is very positive toward game performances unless the players play perfectly."

And yet he says, "I feel the media has the same standards I do. That's what I expect from the players — perfection. But the problem is that's what everyone around them reads and hears and then it starts to get to them and suddenly it's, 'You guys really aren't very good,' and, 'Why aren't you scoring 55 points?' "

By the way, why isn't USC scoring 55 points? We're talking greatness here. Why haven't the Trojans been more impressive against some of the soft touches on their schedule? Is he already expecting a parade?

"We know how hard it is," Kiffin says. "We have less scholarship players than the other team, and while these kids know they are still going to win, it's like they don't win by enough with the media.

"You'll see it in the headlines. You read them and it's like you don't even know we won. You almost think we lost.''

For the most part, Kiffin is doing extraordinary work. But for now maybe impending greatness should be just seen and not heard whining.

Because as Jane put it so well in Season 4, Episode 14: "To whom much is given, much is expected.''

So for starters, how about 55 points?

::

JEFF, A UCLA fan, has a terrific idea. He emailed to say he's upset he cannot get the Pac-12 Networks on his TV, therefore missing UCLA's game with Cal.

"Perhaps we should have Coach [Jim] Mora yelling at the TV cable operators,'' writes Jeff, "instead of our sports information directors.''

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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