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USC's Lane Kiffin has much work to do, starting with look in mirror

Embattled Coach Lane Kiffin must plug holes in roster and coaching staff and limit recruiting damage while trying to fix what failed USC in disappointing 7-6 season.

January 01, 2013|By Gary Klein
  • After a disappointing season for USC, Coach Lane Kiffin has much work to do heading into the new year.
After a disappointing season for USC, Coach Lane Kiffin has much work to… (Harry How / Getty Images )

The fan base is howling.

A star player is leaving.

And some recruits are wavering.

So as USC attempts to put its lost season behind and move forward, Coach Lane Kiffin said everything would be under review.

The starting point is clear-cut.

"You look at yourself first," Kiffin said after the Trojans' 21-7 Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech.

Kiffin's self-examination will no doubt be aided with gusto by Athletic Director Pat Haden, who has steadfastly stood by the 37-year-old coach through a season of underachieving performances on the field and a public-relations nightmare off it.

Kiffin, however, won't spend all of his time looking in the mirror.

There is too much work to do.

With his father, Monte Kiffin, now seeking employment in the NFL, USC must find a coordinator for a defense that was out-schemed, outmaneuvered and outmuscled through most of a 7-6 season that ended with Monday's bowl defeat.

Lane Kiffin said he would hold off interviewing candidates until after the bowl game, so his phone was probably humming Tuesday.

Knowledge of the Pac-12 Conference and its varied offenses — "from pro-style, to spreads, to running quarterbacks, to four wides . . . all kinds of stuff," Kiffin said — is important but won't necessarily be a requisite.

Former California defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and Pac-12 Conference coordinators such as Oregon State's Mark Banker are among a potential candidate pool that grows with every NFL and college firing.

Kiffin said "personalities, fits with staff, recruiting — all those things" would be considered as the Trojans attempt to hire "the best guy."

Kiffin, the Trojans' de facto offensive coordinator and play caller, gave more responsibility to titled offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu, quarterbacks coach Clay Helton and receivers coach Tee Martin during bowl preparation.

But it remains to be seen whether Kiffin will voluntarily give up or be forced by Haden to surrender more responsibility next season.

And for the first time since 2009, USC will go into spring practice without a No. 1 quarterback, with Matt Barkley moving on after starting for four years.

Sophomore-to-be Max Wittek could have put an iron grip on the starting job heading into the off-season. But his three-interception performance in the Sun Bowl opened the door for a legitimate spring competition with fellow sophomore Cody Kessler and Max Browne, one of five freshmen who have signed scholarship agreements and are scheduled to begin classes this month.

The quarterbacks, however, will be throwing to a receiver corps no longer featuring the school's all-time receptions leader Robert Woods, who is opting to make himself available for the NFL draft rather than stay for a final season.

"It's going to be real tough," said receiver Marqise Lee, who broke Woods' season receptions record. "Robert's a super play-maker. I guess now I've got to work with somebody else . . . to make sure somebody takes over the spot and does exactly what he did or better."

Tailback Silas Redd, the Trojans' leading rusher, returns for a final season. Junior D.J. Morgan; redshirt sophomore Tre Madden, who appears recovered from knee surgery; and redshirt sophomore Javorius Allen also return. Incoming freshman Justin Davis is an early enrollee and Ty Isaac will arrive in the summer.

Asked what the offense needed to improve upon to be more effective, Redd said, "We've just got to be meaner . . . just more physical, more nasty up front and everywhere, running backs running harder and things like that."

Center Khaled Holmes moves on, but USC returns all other starting offensive linemen, with redshirt freshmen Zach Banner and Jordan Simmons set to compete for playing time.

The defensive line loses end Wes Horton, but senior end Devon Kennard returns after redshirting while recovering from pectoral surgery.

All of the starting linebackers will be juniors, but there could be four new starters in the secondary if cornerback Nickell Robey makes himself available for the draft.

Meanwhile, USC is attempting to hold on to a recruiting class that was regarded as perhaps the nation's best.

Two players who had committed to the Trojans — Mission Viejo High safety Max Redfield and Eddie Vanderdoes, a defensive lineman from Placer High in Auburn, Calif. — reopened their recruitment but could still sign with the Trojans.

Three defensive linemen and two offensive linemen are among the current 15 commits.

Barkley picks agency

Barkley has signed with CAA Sports, which features agents Tom Condon, Ben Dogra and Jimmy Sexton, a person familiar with the situation said.

Barkley, regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2013 NFL draft, suffered a sprained shoulder joint against UCLA on Nov. 17 and was sidelined for the Trojans' final regular-season game against Notre Dame and for the Sun Bowl.

He has not practiced since he was injured and he said last week that his status for the Jan. 26 Senior Bowl was to be determined. Barkley also is scheduled to participate in the NFL scouting combine in February and in USC's pro day workout this spring.

Sexton has represented Lane Kiffin.

Twitter: @latimesklein

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