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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

November 8, 2012 at 11:11 AM

Is Kiffin wearing on USC?

From the start, the “marriage” of Lane Kiffin and Pat Haden didn’t seem like a natural. Haden, who played quarterback for the Trojans in the mid-1970s, is a strait-laced, standup guy, and he inherited Kiffin after ex-USC AD Mike Garrett plucked Kiffin from Tennessee when Pete Carroll fled for the Seahawks.

Kiffin’s USC team was billed for big things this year. Remember the Sports Illustrated headline with Matt Barkley on the cover, touting the fact he was returning for his senior year, “and he didn’t come back to go to the Holiday Bowl”?

Right now, that’s about where you’d project the Trojans, who have lost two straight, looking lost trying to defend the spread-option offenses of Arizona and Oregon. They’re 6-3 and hosting Arizona State Saturday.

Meanwhile, Kiffin keeps getting embroiled in little incidents, evincing petty, peevish behavior, that must be seriously grating to some old-line Trojan boosters, and perhaps Haden.

The latest is almost unbelievable. Wednesday, the Trojans announced they had fired a student manager for deflating five balls used in the USC-Oregon game last week. Balls slightly deflated are supposed to make it easier to throw and catch, two things the Trojans do very well. More on that here.

(I’ve heard of teams wanting to take the air out of the ball, but that usually applies to basketball.)

Kiffin claims no knowledge of the manager’s stunt, and that may be true. But the manager works for him, and at very least, he’s responsible for him.

(Maybe it backfired and helped Oregon. Marcus Mariota completed 20 of 23 throws and Kenjon Barner found the balls enough to his liking that he ran for 321 yards.)

(Editor’s note: Thanks to those who pointed out that it was only USC using the softer footballs. My bad. Damn, just think if Mariota had been throwing deflated footballs. Coincidentally, just heard ESPN pro football analyst Chris Mortensen on the radio, saying that the NFL might be taking a hard look at whether any of Barkley’s proficiency has possibly been due to regularly using deflated footballs. Seems that hand size is a major consideration for NFL teams, and while this might all seem like over-analysis, they’ll be scrutinizing that element, as they do everything else, before the 2013 draft.)

Then there was the tempest a couple of weeks ago in which Kiffin admitted to having players change jersey numbers during a game, apparently to throw off teams scouting the Trojans for future games. More here on that.

My thought on the numbers game: For a big-time college program, this seems awfully high school.

Then there was the dustup early this season, when an LA Daily News reporter wrote about a surgery to kicker Andre Heidari. Kiffin has a policy against reporting injuries from practice, but in this case, the news was apparently gleaned away from practice. Kiffin suspended the reporter for two weeks and revoked his credential for a game, but — in what can only be interpreted as a repudiation of the action — USC reinstated the reporter to practice after a couple of days.

Not long after, Kiffin walked out on a daily practice briefing when a reporter asked a question that he found too probing — after 29 seconds.

You might be asking: Should Kiffin be consumed with antics like manipulating jersey numbers and deflating balls, or the fact he’s got a defense that’s been folded, stapled and mutilated the last couple of weeks?

I’m guessing the same question has occurred to Haden.

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