PASADENA, Calif -- They amassed two-deep around the table of the new coach of the team that finished tied for fifth in the Pac-10 last year. And they waited. And waited. Other coaches were available. Chip Kelly, leader of the defending Pac-10 champions and 2010 conference favorites, stood off to the side casually chatting with a couple of reporters.
But USC coach Lane Kiffin seems like a controversial story waiting to happen. You don't need to add water. You just wait and listen.
"You better say something interesting for as long as we've waited," said one reporter as Kiffin sat down.
"We've made up a bunch of quotes for you," said another.
It was all in fun for the most part, but everyone knows the media mantra "if it bleeds it leads," and the perception -- with justification -- is Kiffin and the Trojans are bleeding. There are severe NCAA sanctions. There are transfers that have left the Trojans with just 71 scholarship players. There are NFL teams filing lawsuits against Kiffin and the program.
Kiffin acknowledges that some view USC as a dynasty in decline. The term he uses to describe the perception is "crumbling." But he also doesn't make any effort to plead for patience or to warn USC fans that tough times might be ahead.
"I cannot imagine USC fans ever lowering their expectations," Kiffin said. "And we like it that way. I'd be shocked if they ever lowered their expectations. I hope they don't. We didn't come here just to make it through this. We came here to play at a championship level, regardless of the sanctions."
Yes, Kiffin was surprised by how severe the NCAA sanctions -- 30 scholarships over three years, a two-year bowl ban -- were. But, yes, he still believes USC is his dream job.
As for the controversies that seems to seek him out like moths to a flame, Kiffin repeatedly returns to a simple and mostly meaningless phrase that amounts to a "whatever": "It is what it is."
What he really wants to do is direct. Everything, he said, will feel much better when he and the Trojans return to the field next week and a tumultuous offseason gets pushed to the background as practices begin. Perhaps the football part of football will offer an escape.
"It will be exciting to get to next week so we can get to football and get on the field," he said.