Watching the BCS on TV, Lane Kiffin thinks about big picture for USC

As USC football Coach Lane Kiffin closely watches his idol, Nick Saban of Alabama, he discusses changes that must be made to secure the Trojans' future success.

We're watching the BCS championship game together Monday night in Lane Kiffin's USC office — you know, the game the Trojans were going to be playing in Miami.

It sounds silly, if not ridiculous, after the kind of season the Trojans have just experienced, but five months ago Kiffin and others were voting USC the No. 1 team in the country.

Right now Miami feels millions rather than a couple of thousand miles away, a brooding Nick Saban on the TV screen, a winner of two of the previous three title games. Soon to make it four titles overall.

Saban is 61. By way of comparison, Kiffin is a 37-year-old kid still in need of training wheels, a kid who also idolizes Saban.

He will not turn the game off when it's clearly a blowout because he wants to hear Saban's postgame interview. He predicts what Saban will say, and gets it almost word for word.

On TV they are talking about Saban's single-minded drive to make Alabama a winner. But now that Kiffin has three children, he's not so sure his idol has the proper priorities.

He says this, though, while I'm sitting on his bed.

It's a white couch. When Kiffin leaves his home on Sunday mornings during the season, he doesn't return until Thursday night. The couch is his bed most nights.

He tells his wife, "If we're going to be successful, I don't want one play that we missed to be the difference."

But near the end of the season, he's talking to his 3-year-old son on the telephone. "He says, 'Hey Dad, do you think we could have a sleepover?'

"He says, 'Dad, do you think you could sleep over at my house?' Not in his bed, but in his house, like I don't live there."

His wife puts it another way: "A lot of good it does sleeping in your office; you still go 7-6."

To hear others now, USC is in ruins and Kiffin is the reason. He was already on the outs with most fans across the country, but now he's lost the Trojans' fan base.

"It was a bad season of coaching by the head coach," Kiffin admits, and yet he's amazingly upbeat.

He says he's excited about recruiting and is already reviewing everything from who calls offensive plays to the tenor of preseason workouts to his interaction with players.

He moved his attention to defense before the Sun Bowl, and even though he won't say so, USC insiders say he didn't call the offensive plays for the bowl game.

"I promise you, we're going to get back to playing tough USC football," he says, while blaming himself for protecting his best players and thin roster by not going harder in practice.

He has a copy of Alabama's daily practice schedule in front of him as he speaks, already comparing it period by period against USC's.

He has talked to Saban, to other coaches at Alabama and to Notre Dame's Brian Kelly. One year ago the Notre Dame alumni were questioning Kelly's ability to deliver success.

More than a question, it's an outcry at USC.