Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 11/2/11
LOS ANGELES Walk through the metal doors, take several steps onto USC's practice field and burnished in white chalk on the green grass, just off the edge of the playing field, is a message: No distractions. If that is supposed to be a reminder for the Trojans to forget about bowl bans, scholarship reductions, everyone's Schadenfreude over their fall from grace and everything else, then what about the man who had it put there? Didn't Lane Kiffin get the memo? Here it is, after the first definitive proof that maybe Kiffin can, you know, actually coach and the dominant storyline is how he has to pony up 10,000 for the petulant tirades about how the referees lied to him Saturday night. There has been little talk since then about how the Trojans, with the exception of a few critical plays, played superbly in a triple-overtime loss to No. 4 Stanford and how it's not so hard to see them fighting back through the scholarship sanctions which will begin this winter and becoming an elite program again. It was not hard Saturday to see past tailback Curtis McNeal's crushing fumble, receiver Robert Woods' brain cramp and safety T.J. McDonald's foolish personal foul, and see a football team that could once again be a very scary proposition. You could feel it in the way the Coliseum buzzed and the USC sideline turned into an impromptu mosh pit. It felt, at times, like 2005 all over again. It's what players like quarterback Matt Barkley, left tackle Matt Kalil and other five-star recruits signed up for when they came to USC to play in games like that. So they could at least find some solace in being participants in a heavyweight bout again. "We hold ourselves to these standards. This is USC football," said Barkley, who has lost four more games than predecessors Mark Sanchez, John David Booty and Matt Leinart combined. "It's kind of weird that Stanford's on top they deserve to be on top, but looking back a couple of years you would never think we'd be happy with a loss like that in triple overtime. And I'm not happy with it. I definitely think we should have won, but it's good for our team to know we can hang with a top five team." And so, though the Trojans walked off the field dejected, it still felt as if the dark cloud that Kiffin refers to the sanctions, the bowl ban, the culture of compliance, the fact that they are no longer that SC was lifting. And then Kiffin opened his mouth. In his opening remarks, he could not help but lay into the referees for not awarding the Trojans a timeout after Woods' knee touched down at the end of a meandering run with one second left. Kiffin said he had explained to the linesman prior to the snap that he wanted a timeout at the end of the play, and that the officials had lied to him. "I'm not complaining, I'm just stating the facts," said Kiffin, who did not seem to have a problem that a WWE takedown by one of his linemen was not flagged two plays earlier. The next night, in his weekly conference call with beat writers, Kiffin had not let go. He reiterated what he said in the heat of the moment and added that his 2-year-old son, Knox, knew more about the rules than the officials. That brought down the hammer from Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. It is believed to be the first time a coach in the conference has been fined (though Oregon's Chip Kelly and Arizona State's Dennis Erickson were reprimanded last season, and Cal's Jeff Tedford was this season). Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach was fined 10,000 in 2007 for criticizing officials. Asked Tuesday if he had written the check yet, Kiffin smiled. "God, it's so tempting," he said, pausing for a moment. "No, I haven't." Neither was he contrite. Oh, he apologized, saying he was sorry and that he had learned from the incident. The lesson learned? "I've learned that regardless of questions, I can't answer anything that has to do with a call during the game or any conversation that an official has with me," Kiffin said. "So from here on out, I won't be able to respond to anything." So, there: It's not my fault. It never seems to be. When Kiffin was with the Raiders, it was the meddling of Al Davis, who foisted JaMarcus Russell upon him. (OK, he gets a pass on that one.) At Tennessee, he tweaked Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier, took shots at former coach Phil Fulmer and wondered why everyone disliked him. And now this: blame the referee. Maybe Kiffin can't help himself, that he just steps in it because . . . well, he can't help it. It was an interesting contrast on Tuesday when, not far from where Kiffin was standing, McDonald, who was suspended by the Pac-12 for the first half of Friday's game, was owning up to his actions, apologizing to his teammates and respecting the decision to suspend him. And McNeal said he was glad to talk to reporters after the game about his fumble, because it would allow him to move on. Asked Tuesday if the fumble was because he had a poor grip on the handoff, McNeal said, there are no excuses, especially at that time on the 4-yard line. I didn't get my job done." There should be a valuable, if familiar, message in there. Someday, if there is a question of whether the Trojans are winning enough, or winning the right way, university officials might want a coach who sets an example for his players, not the other way around. Somebody the administration and the alums feel good about, someone who can coach without becoming a distraction.
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