I'll say one thing for University of Southern California head football coach Lane Kiffin: He’s never met a controversy he couldn’t wind up waist-deep into.
Kiffin was scheduled to be a first-time voter this season in the USA Today poll of college football coaches, one of the three elements of the Bowl Championship Series formula that sets the matchup for the game for the big crystal football in January.
Kiffin’s tenure on the voting board lasted one poll after he pulled out (per ESPN.com) of the national newspaper’s panel of voters after USA Today revealed his vote in the preseason poll last week. For its part, the newspaper claimed it was acting upon a desire to “protect the poll’s integrity” in the wake of Kiffin providing “false or misleading information.”
OK, first of all, it’s a football poll, not the National Security Agency. But more to the point, USA Today—which traditionally only released a coach’s vote in the final poll—decided to take a relatively innocuous comment from Kiffin out of context and use it to embarrass the coach.
Kiffin originally said, “I would not vote USC No. 1, I can tell you that much,” when informed that Arizona coach Rick Rodriguez said he put the Trojans at the top of his ballot.
The problem arose when USA Today revealed that Kiffin had, in fact, listed his own team as the best team in the country. Kiffin’s mea culpa attempt included an explanation that he was attempting to speak from the perspective of opposing coaches such as Rodriguez.
There is no mistaking Kiffin has some baggage. There was the nasty fight over money with the late Al Davis after he was fired as coach of the Oakland Raiders. There was the ugly departure from Knoxville after just one season as coach at Tennessee.
Do I believe Kiffin? Frankly, I don’t care. The coaches’ poll is one of the longest-running jokes in college football, anyway. And Kiffin, speaking to reporters after practice on Monday, pulled back the curtain that most of us with the ability to add one and one together and come up with two already knew.
“Thinking back, I wouldn’t have [agreed to be on the voting panel] in the first place, but I didn’t think about it enough. I just don’t think I can do it very well—know the whole entire country and who they are when we are flying back on the plane trip and turn in a vote at 7 a.m.”
What coach does have the time to pay attention to the top 30 or 35 teams in the country when they are focused on preparing their own team? I’d honestly be shocked if more than half the coaches in the poll were actually the ones filling out the ballot; I’ve only been sort of kidding when I’ve called it the “USA Today Sports Information Directors’ and other various lackeys handed the ballot by their coaches’ poll” over the years.
Under other circumstances, such as the college football landscape prior to the creation of the BCS, it really didn’t matter. But this poll currently counts for 33 percent of the formula by which the sport chooses the teams to contest its national championship, at least for another two years.
I am certain the poll will continue to play a role in the BCS tabulations as it morphs into its four-team playoff system in 2014. Yet Kiffin confirmed what most of us already knew—voters in the USA Today poll aren’t knowledgeable judges of the nation’s top teams because they simply don’t have the time to evaluate them.
So it leads me to wonder just what the heck that poll is really ranking besides reputation?