(USA Today Sports Images)
Kiffin's USC team wasn't just bad, it was embarrassing at times. The season started with USC as the preseason No. 1, but then included Kiffin caught lying about his vote in the coaches poll, having players change jerseys against lowly Colorado for a trick play, a student manager deflating balls without Kiffin's knowledge (cough, cough), banning a reporter and walking out of a press conference for a common question about injuries, then at the bowl game USC reportedly stood Georgia Tech up at a pre-bowl dinner after his players had insulted El Paso for no good reason and had a fight among themselves after the game. Does that cover it all?
Oh, we forgot one other key part. USC became the first preseason No. 1 team to lose six games. Ever. The Wall Street Journal asked if it was the worst preseason No. 1 team of all time, and that was before the Trojans lost three more times. So on the field, USC might have been the worst preseason No. 1 team in history. Off the field, it might have been even worse.
So it makes sense Kiffin wants to forget, and it's good news that he's looked at himself in the mirror a bit this offseason.
"I don't think about last year anymore," Kiffin told the Los Angeles Times.
And, smartly, Kiffin is changing some things in an attempt to make sure that debacle of a season isn't repeated. In fairness, if last season is repeated he won't have a job much longer anyway.
The LA Times story discussed the differences. Kiffin is spending more time with the defensive players, and seems to be relinquishing at least some play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Clay Helton. There are new assistant coaches, most importantly a new defensive coordinator to replace Lane's father Monte Kiffin. Kiffin rightfully dismissed the notion that he didn't "high-five guys enough," but he is also being more engaging with his players, the LA Times wrote:
Still, Kiffin has made an effort to open up to more players, especially on defense.
"He's more interactive," said Devon Kennard, a fifth-year senior end. "I've noticed a difference."
Junior linebacker Hayes Pullard said Kiffin's transformation began during Sun Bowl preparations, when defensive players were surprised to see him observing drills. The focus has continued.
"He's way more engaged," Pullard said.
Something needed to change, and although we have often pointed out Kiffin's deficiencies here, he deserves credit for not being stubborn. Last season turned USC into a punchline, and the proud program can't continue to spiral downward. The changes in culture and results starts at the top. And in the process, Kiffin seems to be a little happier too.
"Some people around here say, 'It seems like you're having a little more fun,'" Kiffin said, according to the LA Times. "I think I am."
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