Lane Kiffin quickly finds a comfort zone as USC coach
Lane Kiffin looked different.
Despite working nonstop since arriving in Los Angeles from Tennessee two days earlier, USC’s new coach appeared rested and rejuvenated Friday when he emerged from his first team meeting at Heritage Hall.
“This is the third time I’ve done a first meeting,” said Kiffin, who at 34 is already a former Oakland Raiders and Tennessee coach. “But it was different because you knew so many people and so many things have been established here.”
His relaxed demeanor was in contrast to what he showed at Wednesday’s news conference, when he looked fatigued even before taking on a barrage of questions about his exit from Tennessee and a string of NCAA secondary violations committed by the program during his 14 months in Knoxville.
Kiffin, in the midst of adding to a staff that so far includes only recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, has made recruiting his top priority with national signing day less than three weeks away.
On Friday, the new coaches and several assistants from former coach Pete Carroll’s staff began hosting an official visit for several high-profile recruits. USC is attempting to retain and enhance what had the makings of another top-five class before Carroll’s sudden departure to become coach of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.
Kiffin said he has not seen his wife and children since his news conference at USC, when he and Orgeron were grilled by reporters about violations at Tennessee and Orgeron’s phone contact with Volunteers recruits after he joined the Trojans staff.
Tennessee officials are investigating the phone calls to see whether rules violations occurred. Kiffin said he did not know whether USC was conducting a similar probe.
“I don’t believe that to be a compliance issue at all,” he said. “I think it’s a moral issue of whether it was telling a kid to come that was already going there or explaining options because there was some concern.”
Kiffin, who has said that he would call offensive plays for the Trojans, was unmoved by Norm Chow’s decision to remain at UCLA as offensive coordinator. USC had contacted Chow at Athletic Director Mike Garrett’s behest, but Chow agreed to a contract extension that will keep him in Westwood.
Longtime observers of USC’s program had doubted a Chow-Kiffin reunion would materialize because of the coaches’ history together. Carroll had nudged Chow to the NFL after the Trojans’ 2004 national championship season by proposing a reduction in Chow’s responsibilities and an increase in the aspiring Kiffin’s.
“We reached out to Coach Chow and his representation, and the word came back that he is very happy where he is,” Kiffin said earlier Friday in a statement. “The Trojan family will always be grateful to him for his time here. I’m sure he’ll continue to have great success across town.”
Asked whether he would now pursue only a quarterbacks coach rather than an offensive coordinator, Kiffin said “there were a number of different options.”
“You can make rookie mistakes by moving too fast and trying to grab people right away instead of making sure you see everything that’s out there and who may be interested,” he said.
Players sounded excited after their 20-minute meeting, saying the coaches’ emphasis was on following team rules and starting with a clean slate.
Fullback Stanley Havili said he sensed a “new excitement” in the program, especially with the fiery Orgeron in the mix.
“We’ve been doing the same thing for a long time,” Havili said. ". . . I feel like with Coach O back it’s a whole different mentality.”