Can Lane Kiffin Win Back USC Locker Room After Trojan Player Calls Him Out?

Lisa Horne@LisaHornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterJanuary 30, 2013

USC head coach Lane Kiffin
USC head coach Lane KiffinUSA TODAY Sports

ESPN columnist Gene Wojciechowski just wrote up his interview with USC head coach Lane Kiffin and the content should have come with a warning to Trojan fans:

Please read this without any sharp objects lying nearby.

Some of the admissions Kiffin made were not shocking: Kiffin takes the blame for USC's 7-6 season and admits he's a polarizing figurehead.

"You're going to pay for mistakes you make along the way, whether you did them on purpose or not," Kiffin told Wojciechowski.

While some Trojan fans may nod their heads in sympathy, others will point out that most fans don't care that his mistakes were unintentional. Aren't most human mistakes a result of plans not being well thought out? We all make mistakes, but then again, we all don't make seven figures a year—that kind of dough usually carries a heftier burden. 

Kiffin waxes poetic about how he's college football's pariah and that may be in part to focusing too much "into X's and O's and what it takes to win, that I hadn't grown up enough to understand the other stuff that matters."

Kiffin, for what it's worth, is 37 years old, which is the same age as some of this country's forefathers. Why is he still talking about growing up when he's the guy in charge of mentoring student-athletes and impressionable teens?

Aside from all of that minutia, the real problem at USC was highlighted two-thirds of the way through Wojciechowski's story:

A few weeks [after the Hyundai Sun Bowl loss], one Trojans player told me that Kiffin had "lost" the USC locker room. He described the defeat to Georgia Tech as, "getting boat-raced by a high school football team."

So I asked the player, "Can Kiffin win at USC?"

"Yes, he can win," said the player, who spoke under the condition of anonymity. "Do I think he is the coach of the future for the Trojans? I don't know. I do know that Pat Haden didn't hire Coach Kiffin. At SC, it's all about winning. When you start off the preseason ranked No. 1 and you're the first team in college football to lose six games, there's a lot of pressure that following year."


It's a week before national signing day and a current player just called out his head coach. In his opinion, Kiffin "lost" the locker room. Even more damning is that this player knew USC athletic director Pat Haden didn't hire Kiffin. 

How many football players know stuff like that? Either he's done his homework or someone else told him that. And why would someone tell him that? You can fill in the blanks from here, but the inference is there—the players know their coach's boss didn't hire him and that his boss doesn't have to issue a personal "mea culpa" if their coach is dismissed.

Kiffin was not Haden's choice—he was then-athletic director Mike Garrett's choice—but he has been steadfast in his support of Kiffin

There's also the undeniable fact that, at least for one player, USC football's future with head coach Lane Kiffin is a question mark—it's one thing when fans start questioning the future; it's another when a player does it.

This could hurt USC in so many ways, but let's start out with the "there's a traitor among us" analogy. For the players in the pro-Kiffin camp, this latest tidbit is going to cause some discord with those players who they believe are in the anti-Kiffin camp. This could fracture the locker room. Instead of standing united, divided they fall.

More importantly, if a player feels dubious about Lane Kiffin's future, how will that affect the recruiting? There could be at least one prospect—or even worse, a commit—who is now seeing red flags. Kiffin has already lost six commits in the Class of 2013, and if another one decommits before Feb. 6, the domino effect could commence.

Can Kiffin win back the locker room? Yes, especially if this is an isolated case of a reporter talking with a player fresh off of a humiliating loss to Georgia Tech, albeit a month after the fact isn't exactly "fresh." Maybe the player has done some deep reflecting since he made those statements and doesn't feel the same way as he did at the time of the interview.


What Kiffin needs to do is get the team involved in some bonding activities (within NCAA guidelines, of course) that appeal to all of the players. Or maybe he needs to call a team meeting and hold a Festivus Airing of Grievances—the players can speak freely about what's bothering them without any repercussions. 

But Kiffin has to do something now because one player's thoughts and feelings may be indicative of a widespread problem.  

It could be that just this one player feels unsure about Kiffin's leadership, but locker rooms tend to breed disharmony like mold in a carpeted floor's corner. Players talk. 

And recruits are listening.