Rick Reilly You Suck Too!

05 Aug 2010

Evel Knievel tried to jump the Snake River Canyon. David Copperfield tried to make 747s disappear. I’m going to try to defend Lane Kiffin.

To read the columnists, Kiffin, USC’s new head football coach, apparently eats poached children for breakfast, sticks sharp things in the eyes of the elderly and drowns kittens for laughs.

Kiffin is the most hated man in football right now, by a par 5. If he met Tony Hayward right now, Hayward would go, “Come on, man! Have you seen what they’re writing about you?”

Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Mark Bradley has called him a “brat” and a “jerk.” ESPN.com’s Gene Wojciechowski called him a fraud, an egomaniac and a two-faced weasel. Former San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ray Ratto says “you would Wite-Out Pol Pot’s name to hate [Kiffin].” (Ratto prefers the guy who murdered around 2 million Cambodians.)

So when you meet him, you expect to at least see a “666” shaved in his hairline. Instead, what you get is a tall, slender, friendly 35-year-old with the very odd combination of baby fat in his cheeks and gray hair on the sides of his head. “Got that in Oakland/Alameda,” he says, reminding you he once worked for Al Davis, who called him a “liar” who was “bringing disgrace to the organization.” When you’re accused of disgracing the graceless Raiders, you’ve done something.

ARE you reading what they’re writing about you?

“Sure,” he says. “I have to, just to see what’s coming next. But it doesn’t bother me.”



So what makes Kiffin the worst human being since Judas? Let us count the ways:

1. They say he has the manners of a hungover raccoon.

He stands accused of not calling Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher for permission to talk to Titans running backs coach Kennedy Pola (Troy Polamalu’s uncle). Pola took the job, causing Fisher to blow a gungalator, and call out Kiffin as “less than professional.” Then the Titans sued Kiffin and USC for “unlawfully” trying to lure Pola away.


The lawsuit is phonier than Tori Spelling, of course. Pola, who played at USC and has a son who’s going to walk on there, was the only one legally obligated to ask permission, not Kiffin. It would’ve been nice for Kiffin to do it, “but not everybody asks the head coach first when they’re looking for an assistant,” Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh said Thursday.

USC says that Kiffin called Pola first and said, “Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll call Coach Fisher and let him know we’re talking to you.” But Pola got wrapped up in the decision, according to USC: Stayed up all that Friday night and didn’t call Kiffin back until he’d already talked to Fisher on Saturday. By then it was too late.

OK, slightly poor form by Kiffin. Big whoop. Happens every day in football. The suit is just a ticket ploy. After all, what better way to sell Titans seats than letting everybody in Tennessee know how much the Titans hate Kiffin, like everybody else in the state? Kiffin bolted the head-coaching job at the University of Tennessee to come to USC in the first place. Maybe the ad slogan will be: “Come to the games and we can all hate him together!”

But if you think the state of Tennessee is ever going to sit a jury and hold a trial on this one, then Scopes is a monkey. When I asked Kiffin if he’d patched it up with Fisher, he said, “Yeah, I think he has a better understanding of what happened.”

So why doesn’t he drop the suit?

“Because he’s not suing me. The Titans are. And it’s not really about Jeff and I.”

What’s it about?

“It’s about where the lawsuit is located.”


2. They say he’s disloyal.

He stiffed Tennessee after only one 7-6 season. He told Rocky Top he’d be with them through thick and thin. Even middle-named his son “Knox,” short for Knoxville. But Kiffin coached six seasons at USC as an assistant and considered the head-coaching gig his dream job. So when Pete Carroll suddenly bolted USC (Hey, anybody naming a sewage treatment plant in L.A. after Carroll?), he jumped at it.