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NCAA: Kiffin not compliant at Tennessee

2/23/2011

Pause for a moment and recall the worst relationship of your life. It's probably hard to remember why you came together -- the attraction was superficial, right? -- because the toxic outcome ended up redacting any fleeting, happy moments.

Speaking of redacting, USC received a notice of allegations today from the NCAA regarding Lane Kiffin's tenure as coach at Tennessee.

And speaking of bad relationships, how many proved as toxic -- and lingeringly so -- as Kiffin and Tennessee?

Here's the short analysis of the 26-page document: Tennessee has successfully thrown Kiffin under the bus, and USC fans should be concerned because Kiffin apparently didn't make it very difficult.

There are three central allegations:

  • The NCAA alleges Kiffin or his assistant coaches between Jan. 3 and Jan. 9 of 2010 made 16 "impermissible recruiting telephone calls" to three prospects.

  • The NCAA alleges Kiffin allowed a recruiting intern, Steve Rubio, "to make in-person, off-campus contacts with high school administrators during a recruiting trip" to St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

  • The NCAA alleges Kiffin "failed to promote an atmosphere for compliance within the football program and failed to monitor the activities regarding compliance of several assistant football coaches."

But the big problem for Kiffin -- and the boon for Tennessee -- is this: In both of the alleged violations (the calls and the recruiting visit), Kiffin was told in advance by Tennessee not to do what he ended up doing, according to the NCAA and, of course, Tennessee.

Said the NCAA of the calls: "These calls were placed subsequent to the football staff's receipt of information in December of 2009 from the institution's compliance staff that such telephone calls were impermissible."

Said the NCAA of the trip: "This trip and these contacts occurred after David Blackburn, the institution's director of football operations, informed both Kiffin and Rubio ... that Rubio was not permitted to enter a high school's property while accompanying a football coach on a recruiting trip."

Ergo: Kiffin's failure to monitor.

Said USC athletic director Pat Haden in a statement:

"We have received from the NCAA a notice of allegations against Lane Kiffin pertaining to his tenure as the head football coach at Tennessee. The NCAA enforcement process provides for Tennessee and Lane to address those charges. Until that process is completed, it would be unfair and premature for me or USC to comment on this matter.

"However, I will say this: Since his return to USC last year as our head football coach, Lane has been vigilant in making sure he and the football program follow the NCAA's rules and compete the right way. Lane has my support as our head football coach."

Kiffin used the USC statement to decline comment, but did note that "we look forward to working through the process with the NCAA."

Ha! Sure, that will be great fun, Lane.

What you can gather from news today is that Kiffin could suffer some sort of sanction that limits him in recruiting. I'm experiencing a bit of déjà vu because I covered a similar situation in 2002 when then-Washington coach Rick Neuheisel was grounded for eight months for violations he committed while coaching at Colorado.

That case was similar not just in that the violations occurred at a school where the coach was no longer employed, but also in that the previous school thought said former coach fell somewhere between cockroach and toe fungus on the pecking order of organisms.

That case was also similar because you have to understand the subtext of under-the-bus-throwing: When a successful, current coach is found to have engaged in a pattern of secondary violations, the school throws the compliance department under the bus: "Our coach wanted to comply but our compliance department failed him!"

But when a hated ex-coach is alleged to have engaged in a pattern of secondary violations -- read: Neuheisel and now Kiffin -- then it's clearly the coach's moral turpitude at work.

USC fans might immediately wonder if this connects to the Trojans' appeal before the NCAA or in any way exposes USC to potential problems. The official answer is "probably not," other than specific sanctions against Kiffin would become another obstacle for the football program to deal with as it tries to maintain a high level of competitiveness.

But in terms of the public relations, it casts another shadow over Kiffin and USC. As in: "See, the bad things they were saying about Kiffin are true!"

Of course, if Kiffin leads USC to 10 wins this season, no Trojans fans will really care.