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Monday, August 13, 2012
Kiffin drops poll vote, but it's not important

By Ted Miller

There are a couple of ways to look at USC coach Lane Kiffin's decision to drop out of the coaches' poll.

First, he's taking his ball and going home in a fit of pique. Second, USA Today's gotcha moment in the name of the "poll's integrity" -- insert canned laughter there -- inspired him to drop one more frustration from his life and focus on his team.

It's probably a little of both.

The bottom line is a negative for Kiffin. There was no reason to fib, to tell reporters he wouldn't vote his team No. 1 when he did. And his explanation afterward that he was speaking about other voters, not himself, when he was saying he wouldn't vote the Trojans No. 1 smacked of a guy with a razor blade and a shaky hand going after a strand of hair.

Kiffin's reputation, terrible after controversial tenures with the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Volunteers, has experienced a renaissance this past year. And for good reason. He let his coaching and recruiting do most of his talking and the message that started to emerge was he was good at both. Further, those of us who've had a scattering of moments with him when he lets his guard down have experienced a guy who is insightful and pretty darn amusing.

This truly is a tempest in a teapot. While, if you are keeping score at home, this is a blip in the "Rehabilitated Kiffin" narrative. Kiffin haters, as frustrated and neutered a group of gadflies as you could find of late, now can again smear themselves with goat's blood and dance around their bonfires. So enjoy this 23 seconds in the news cycle.

On the other hand, some USC fans are going overboard with their conspiracy theories. Some seem to believe Kiffin was outed just because he's Lane Kiffin. While it is possible that a lesser-known coach's random comments wouldn't have registered, there is a precedent for USA Today's gotcha moment on Kiffin's dissembling. The same thing happened to former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel in 2006. And, yes, Ohio State completed a series of PR backflips to try to take the heat off Tressel.

This moment could have been avoided if Kiffin had just refused to say which team he voted No. 1 because his vote is -- was -- confidential. Or he could have said he voted his team No. 1, which would have been fine because his team very well might be the best in the land.

But since USA Today has gravely reiterated its so-serious task of protecting the coaches' poll integrity, perhaps it should actually take that job seriously by insisting the poll be transparent, with each voter's ballot published every week, as the AP poll does. We are talking about a news organization, not a "Hide Important Information From the Public" organization. The argument that coaches need confidentiality is devoid of merit. You win an argument over that point with a simple, "No, that's wrong. Hush."

Further, it should be more aggressive in policing voters whose ballots fail the integrity test. As the Pac-12 blog once pointed out, for years Howard Schnellenberger's ballot was often clueless and indefensible. Someone should have tracked down Schnellenberger and simply told him to re-vote or be kicked out of the poll.

Here's a guess that confidentiality has allowed more than a handful of coaches to vote in a way that is obviously self-interested and disingenuous. That is a far more serious issue than Lane Kiffin saying he didn't vote his team No. 1 when he did.