Despite a 7-5 finish that included a sweep by rivals UCLA and Notre Dame for the first time in nearly two decades, Lane Kiffin continues to feel support from USC Athletic Director Pat Haden.
USC’s embattled coach said so late Saturday night as he prepared to leave the Coliseum after the Trojans’ 22-13 loss to top-ranked Notre Dame.
A week earlier, after USC’s loss to UCLA at the Rose Bowl, Haden told Bill Plaschke of The Times that Kiffin was his coach “150%, now and hopefully for a long time.”
Asked whether the situation was unchanged after Saturday’s loss, Kiffin said, “Yes. And I’m saying we’ve got to get better, we need to do a better job. And what we’ve got to do is sign the No. 1 [recruiting] class in the country.”
Still, Kiffin could not escape the noise.
It came from the Notre Dame locker room, boisterous shouts of joy reverberating through the walls during Kiffin’s postgame news conference.
Then, of course, there was the sound of USC fans screaming for Kiffin’s head after the Trojans lost four of their last five games.
USC informed reporters late last week that Kiffin would not conduct his usual teleconference Sunday evening, a change from last season when he spoke after the Trojans’ season-ending 50-0 victory over UCLA.
But the Trojans’ performance against the Fighting Irish spoke for itself.
The loss to Notre Dame, coming a week after a 38-28 loss to UCLA, marked the first time since 1995 the Trojans were swept by their rivals.
Kiffin described the Trojans’ finish — which also included losses to Arizona and Oregon — as “a horrible five weeks. We were right there at 6-1, ready to go to 7-1, and screwed up.”
Kiffin said his postgame address to his team touched on several points.
“I just thanked the seniors, for what they’ve been through and the hard work,” Kiffin said. “We talked about finishing strong academically, and we’ll figure out the rest.”
USC is bound for a bowl game next month that will be far from Bowl Championship Series glamour.
Kiffin said he was not concerned about his players’ motivation.
“That’s so far from now,” he said. “I’m not worried about it.”
USC quarterback Max Wittek is happy that first-start nerves are behind him.
The redshirt freshman passed for a touchdown and had two passes intercepted while playing in place of injured four-year starter Matt Barkley.
“I was nervous, not in a bad way, just regular old nerves,” Wittek said as he left the Coliseum. “But I settled down pretty quickly.”
Wittek said that although the unbeaten Irish do not run many defensive schemes, “they just execute it so well.”
Wittek is looking forward to building on his first start as he heads into bowl-game preparation. Barkley’s status remains uncertain.
“It gives me a lot to learn from,” Wittek said. “Getting experience against the No. 1 team in the country, I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity…. I can’t wait to watch the film to see what I did good and see what I did bad, and just learn from it.”