T.J. SIMERS

Lane Kiffin is so promising — and so immature

Kiffin may prove to be a great coach for USC, but he needs to put away the petty kids' stuff, such as his jersey-swapping trick.

I begin by calling the USC athletic department, and while on hold I'm getting Abbott and Costello doing "Who's on first?"

How well I remember the days of Garrett and Hackett.

Getting as far as "what is on second," I'm almost afraid to ask "Where's Pat Haden?" when I get the chance.

The USC athletic director has this bright, great coach in the making in Lane Kiffin, but darn it if Kiffin doesn't insist on being immature.

Why isn't Haden, known best for being rock-solid, steering Kiffin away from the petty behavior that has undermined Kiffin's reputation elsewhere as a promising coach?

Why didn't Haden say something the first time Kiffin's team swapped jerseys to deceive the opposition? Why didn't he tell him he's bigger than that, given how small others think he can be?

USC is favored by 40 to beat Colorado and it's running a fake play for an extra point so it might score two points?

And to do so one of the school's assistant coaches tells a player who has been No. 6 going back to last season to wear No. 35? This way the Buffaloes won't know it's a quarterback running onto the field as the holder who will later run a fake before returning to the game as No. 6.

And this is all cool in the name of forcing future foes to waste time worrying about Kiffin's aversion to just kicking an extra point?

"Lane has had some missteps," says Haden. "The job of head coach at USC is more than just Xs and O's. You have a bunch of people you represent, from past players and alums, and it's a different place from where he's been before. We're held to a higher standard here, and some of the stuff is petty, in my estimation.

"We made a mountain out of a molehill on the injury reporting, and I told him that. But there are also things he's been blamed for, like not letting the opposition use the Coliseum, that are not his doing."

But isn't that where Kiffin is in his young career?

"I know he's got a reputation, a target on him, and I talk to him every single day about the best way to act," says Haden.

But as for swapping uniforms, Haden is quick to say, "It is absolutely not a rules violation.

"Is a fake punt an accepted maneuver?" Haden asks. "It's within the rules. And that's Lane's marching orders here: We're going to play within the rules."

So this jersey swap doesn't bother Haden?

"The perception bothers people because it was reported wrong in the L.A. Times," says Haden, who seems wrong for saying so.

The Times reported that according to NCAA rules, "Numbers shall not be changed during the game to deceive opponents."

"That's absolutely true," says Kiffin, while maintaining USC wasn't trying to deceive, but rather to confuse future opponents.

You be the judge: But whoever is right, the argument here is Kiffin has the promise to be a terrific coach if no longer a party to petty shenanigans.

Maybe it just starts with baby steps, leaving no room to be called a brat. But what a future! And a little help from above maybe the clincher to success.

"He's definitely a work in progress.It can be challenging, but I think we're making progress with Lane," says Haden. "And I agree with you; I think he has a big future in front of him and a long runway."

Or as Costello tells Abbott: "One base at a time."

t.j.simers@latimes.com
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