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Lane Kiffin Keeps Cool in Crowd of Questions

Jul 30, 2010 – 11:42 AM
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Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith %BloggerTitle%

PASADENA, Calif. -- Lane Kiffin has learned enough in his brief, but checkered career as the USC head coach that he's not about to say the wrong thing into a microphone or a tape recorder at this point.

The lawsuit filed by the Tennessee Titans against USC for last week's hiring of offensive coordinator Kennedy Pola. Can't say much about it.

The NCAA sanctions against USC, some of which the Trojans are appealing. Probably shouldn't comment too much about that.

Not that that stopped a gaggle of media from surrounding Kiffin every time he stopped moving for even a moment Thursday at Pac-10 media day. Kiffin was undoubtedly the most popular interviewee of the day. And the coach didn't seem terribly willing to feed the beast with more controversy. At the end of a sunny day on the field at the Rose Bowl, while workers were breaking down the stage and tents, Kiffin was sitting at a table surrounded by more than a dozen reporters.

There was one topic Kiffin wasn't reluctant to address openly: the exodus of players from his roster in the wake of NCAA sanctions.

USC's two-year bowl ban makes it possible for juniors and seniors to transfer out of the program without having to sit out a year. And that's pretty much what's happening.

Kiffin said he is down to 71 scholarship players on the roster -- which means that the Trojans have 14 left. But USC will only be allowed 75 scholarships for the 2011 season as part of its NCAA punishment. The program will be down to 55 scholarships by 2013.

"Depth, in general, is an issue," Kiffin said Thursday at the Rose Bowl at Pac-10 media day. "We've kind of lost people all over the place. We have to be intelligent and smart ... We're going to have to tone down practices a little bit."

Expect more NFL-type practices with less hitting and reduced contact.

"What we've dealt with in the last month is free agency without a salary cap. Our players can leave and go anywhere and they don't have to sit out and you have to deal with that."
Kiffin said the NCAA sanctions have created "free agency in college football."

"What we've dealt with in the last month is free agency without a salary cap," Kiffin said. "Our players can leave and go anywhere and they don't have to sit out and you have to deal with that."

Kiffin said he doesn't believe many of the players are leaving for the chance to play in a bowl game. They are leaving for a better chance to play, period. And he insinuated that they are being recruited away.

"I've seen a number of guys who are leaving because they weren't excited about their playing time," Kiffin said. "That penalty is supposed to be a postseason ban, but every single kid that left, they weren't leaving because they weren't going to play in a bowl game. They left because they were being told that they could go someplace else and get more reps."

He said he and his coaching staff will have to be cautious about recruiting and in dealing with players who could pick up and leave any time they choose.

"We need to make sure in our recruiting process that we are not just signing the top guys, but making sure that the bottom of the class is really strong," Kiffin said.

The loss of players, the lack of depth, turns into just another punishment for USC.

Sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley said he never considered leaving the program, even though he will have no chance to quarterback in a bowl game until he is a senior. If he stays that long.

Kiffin tried to cajole Barkley to committing to that in front of the gathered media at the Rose Bowl.

"We'll see. Hopefully," Barkley replied.
Filed under: Sports